Stephen Miller solidifies influence in White House

Stephen Miller is a survivor in President Trump’s White House.

The young policy aide has solidified his influence, even as would-be allies such as Stephen Bannon have been forced out of the West Wing.

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In just the past month, he played a key role in developing the administration’s new travel ban, pushed Trump to scrap an Obama-era program for young immigrants living illegally in the U.S. and argued for a historically low refugee cap.

He has also helped write the president’s major speeches, from the inaugural address to Trump’s response to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and is among a group of aides that often travels with the president on Air Force One.

The senior adviser on policy’s title is broad-reaching enough that he could seem to dip into a host of domestic policies from health care to welfare to the economy, though it is not clear how deeply he has waded into issues outside those on immigration and security with which he is most identified.

Miller did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

A White House official would only say he is involved in “a wide variety of issues.”

People close to the White House say the 32-year-old, a relatively obscure Capitol Hill aide just two years ago, has become a White House mainstay because he shares similar views with the president on immigration, can channel his voice like few others and has deftly navigated the internal dramas that have torpedoed other aides.

One former Trump aide said Miller has “figured out how to survive Red Weddings,” a reference to an infamous massacre in the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

Miller is one of just a handful of top staffers remaining from the early days of the Trump campaign, a group that includes communications director Hope Hicks and social media director Dan Scavino.

Since Trump’s inauguration, half a dozen senior advisers have left or been forced out of the West Wing. That includes Miller’s ideological ally Bannon, who exited his post as chief strategist in August.

While their policy views are similar, their approaches to the job were wildly different.

Bannon was known for openly warring with his rivals in the administration, including the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. Miller has a different approach.

“Stephen learned early on, having survived multiple leadership regimes on the campaign and now in the White House, don’t worry about other staffers,” said Jason Miller, another former campaign and transition official. “Only focus on President Trump and what he wants to get done.”

Miller has a good working relationship with Kushner, despite their policy differences, and White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE thinks highly of him, sources close to the White House say.

His ability to play the inside game has given him a platform to help advance a policy agenda he has long championed: restricting the flow of immigrants and refugees to the U.S.

It helps that Miller sees eye-to-eye with Trump on an issue he put front and center during the 2016 campaign. “He keeps the president’s compass on that issue,” a former Trump adviser said.

Miller reportedly developed the White House’s wish list of immigration enforcement proposals for Republicans on Capitol Hill, policies that could accompany a replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that he opposes.

Trump allies also rave about Miller’s speech-writing ability. Some of the president’s most iconic lines, like his riff on “American carnage” at the inauguration, have been widely panned. But aides say they provide an unvarnished view of the president’s beliefs.

“Stephen can write the populist message really well,” the former adviser said. “It is Trump through Stephen’s keyboard, and that’s important.”

Critics argue the firebrand aide has not served the president well, saying he uses misleading information to advance the administration’s policy goals.

Miller drew heavy criticism for the botched rollout of the initial travel ban in January, which was blocked by the courts.

Trump also took fire for using misleading and inaccurate claims to defend the first ban, as well as the revised version released in March, which some blame on Miller.

One former administration official said it was Miller’s decision to justify the revised ban by claiming more than 300 refugees were the subject of counterterrorism investigations. The statistic, which came from FBI data, was included in the March executive order and used in administration talking points.

Fact-checkers deemed the claim inaccurate; more than 70 percent of the people under investigation were not covered by the ban. Most of the refugees under investigation were from Iraq, which was not included in the second order.

“In the early days of the administration, you could get away with murder because it was so busy and so chaotic,” said the former official. “Stephen Miller didn’t let the chaos go to waste. … He got away with sloppy execution and sloppy facts.”

A White House official denied it was Miller’s call to use the information and asserted it was an accurate claim. The official pushed back on the notion the number was outdated, saying the president used it in remarks just days after the Department of Homeland Security issued a report containing the number.

Miller’s ability to win in-house allies, avoid infighting and pick his battles may have helped him survive the controversy. Then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly publicly shouldered blame for the rollout, and many accounts also pinned much of the blame on Bannon.

Miller’s low-profile approach, however, is one reason some sources say his influence is more limited than may appear.

He reportedly pushed for a refugee cap of 15,000, while the administration eventually settled on a ceiling of 45,000. Trump scrapped the DACA program, only to turn around and ask Congress to come up with a way to help young undocumented immigrants.

When Miller has spoken publicly, he has gotten the administration in hot water.

In a decision blocking the revised travel ban, a federal judge cited his claim during a March appearance on Fox News that the second order would produce “the same basic policy outcome” as the original.

“He got way over his skis,” said the former administration official. “He created a real problem for us.”

Miller’s public speaking style has also been widely panned as overly combative.

But that has not proven to be an obstacle in the Trump White House. Miller earned praise from some colleagues in August after he went toe-to-toe with CNN’s Jim Acosta over a plan to reduce legal immigration.

Miller famously accused Acosta, a longtime Trump foil, of having “cosmopolitan bias” for his pointed questions about a plan to reduce legal immigration.

The briefing room appearance even sparked speculation he could be named the next White House communications director, a move that never came to fruition.

“The reason he has stuck around is he understands the theatrics of the issue and he understands the president’s communications style,” the former Trump aide said. “When staffers go out, a lot of it is performance art, and Stephen is good at performance art.”