Trump’s immigration pivot: A timeline
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Is Donald Trump pivoting on immigration, the central issue of his presidential campaign?

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Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, has made a series of remarks in the past week that suggest he's open to changing his hard-line stance. But his rhetoric has also occasionally been almost contradictory, raising questions about whether he is pivoting at all.

Here's a timeline showing what Trump has said about immigration recently, as well as changes on his campaign team that could account for a shift.

 

Aug. 17 

Trump announces Kellyanne Conway will be his new campaign manager and Steve Bannon will be his campaign CEO. 

Bannon's hiring seems like the bigger news. The Breitbart News executive operates a conservative website that is deeply critical of increased immigration.

While Conway worked for candidates who share that conservative view, she also helped author a report for an immigration reform group in 2014 that advocated for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

 

Aug. 20 

Trump meets with the newly formed National Hispanic Advisory Council For Trump. Speculation begins.

Early reports of his meeting claim he expressed a willingness to accept a legal status for undocumented immigrants. But others in the room said Trump avoided the term “legalization,” instead focusing on a pitch to engage the Hispanic community and listening to suggestions from the gathered leaders. 

Trump World begins to issue a flurry of denials meant to tamp down speculation that the nominee is weighing a policy shift.

In a speech in Virginia that night, Trump touches on the issue only briefly — decrying the ills of illegal immigration, while framing a strengthened border as a way to protect jobs that could go to low-income Hispanic-Americans. That’s the frame he would use in scripted rallies for the next few days.  

“The illegal immigrant population in Virginia has nearly tripled since 2000, putting enormous pressure on schools and public services,” he said, adding: “Oh, we’re going to build a wall. We’re going to build the wall,” as cheers and chants drowned him out. 

 

Aug. 21 

In a Sunday interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Conway makes waves. 

When asked whether Trump would follow through on his call for a “deportation force” to remove the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., she says, “To be determined.” 

She adds: “What he supports is to make sure that we enforce the law, that we are respectful of those Americans who are looking for well-paying jobs, and that we are fair and humane for those who live among us in this country."

 

Aug. 22 

In his first interview since the commotion over his potentially changing immigration stance, Trump declares Monday morning that he is “not flip-flopping” on the issue.

“We want to come up with a really fair but firm answer. It has to be very firm,” he says on “Fox and Friends.”

Hours later, Trump’s campaign delays an immigration policy speech that was scheduled for Thursday in Colorado. 

His rally that night in Akron, Ohio, hits his usual marks on immigration, showing little deviation from the spirit of his scripted message on the issue. 

Trump then appears on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, saying his first priority will be to “get rid of all the bad” immigrants who are in America illegally. 

He goes on to argue that Presidents Obama and George W. Bush “got tremendous numbers of people out of the country … under existing laws” and downplays his past support of President Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback,” the controversial mass deportation program. 

An hour later, Conway appears on “The Kelly File.”  

Despite being pressed at length by Fox News host Megyn Kelly, she doesn't commit to a President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE deporting all undocumented immigrants, saying only, “He will deport those who have absolutely committed a crime.” 

She also brushes off the speech postponement, noting that the Thursday event was scheduled before the change in campaign management. 

Whether it’s a strategic move by his new campaign leadership or an effort to leave the spotlight focused on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Trump pledges to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, designate KKK a terrorist group in pitch to Black voters MORE, whose been dogged by questions about the Clinton Foundation, is unclear. 

 

Aug. 23 

Two Tuesday Trump events in Texas have markedly different tones, further muddying the waters of where the GOP nominee stands on immigration policy even as he visits a state with a large Hispanic population.  

During a town hall taped in the evening with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, Trump says, “There certainly can be a softening” in his immigration platform, “because we’re not looking to hurt people.”

He goes so far as to poll the audience on whether America should deport a law-abiding person who has been in the country illegally for 20 years.

At a campaign rally just hours later, before the Hannity town hall airs nationally, Trump slams Clinton for promising “massive amnesty” and accuses her of wanting to “gut immigration enforcement.” 

Criticizing Clinton’s support for sanctuary cities — which don’t prosecute certain immigration crimes by nonviolent offenders — he makes a slicing gesture against his throat to signify he’d get rid of the policy.

And he brings border patrol agents and mothers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants onstage to speak, with the mothers hammering home the importance of removing those in the country illegally. 

 

Aug. 24

Trump’s Wednesday speech in Tampa, Fla., a historic haven for Cuban immigrants, includes a departure from the script as he works to reach out to Hispanic voters. 

“To the Hispanic parent, you have a right to walk outside without being shot,” Trump says.

“You have a right to good education for your child. … You have a right to own your home. You have a right to have a good job. I am going to fight to give every Hispanic citizen in this country a better future.”

But later that evening in Jackson, Miss., Trump accuses the media of downplaying the “plight of Americans who have lost their children to illegal immigration” while “pushing for amnesty.”

He tells the crowd that any immigration policy he blesses must improve wages, jobs, safety and quality of life for U.S. citizens.

And in the second portion of the Fox News interview, which aired Wednesday night, Trump promises “no amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. But he adds that his administration would “work with” those who came to America illegally years ago and haven’t committed other crimes.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter blasts Trump on Twitter late at night for indicating he is open to softening his stance on immigration — raising questions of whether Trump may be risking the support of his base by working to engage Hispanic voters. 

The campaign also reportedly decides on a rescheduled date for the immigration speech — next Wednesday in Phoenix, according to The Arizona Republic.

Arizona is the home of one of Trump’s top supporters, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has made his name thanks to his hard-line position on immigration.

“I’m not disappointed,” Arpaio tells CNN on Wednesday. “He’s going to … study the law, and he’s going to follow the law and see where that takes us on enforcing the illegal immigration problem that we have.”

 

Aug. 25 

Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson defends the Republican presidential nominee, promising he has not changed his position. 

"He hasn't changed his position on immigration. He's changed the words that he is saying," Pierson says on CNN.

"What he has always said from the beginning is that he does not want to allow people to stay in this country illegally. He does want to build a wall.

"Everyone on the news is saying that he's a bigot and that he's a racist because of the words that he uses," Pierson says.

"Now, he's simply saying, yeah, we are going to follow the law. We are going to enforce the law."

The media blitz continues with Conway working to clarify that Trump does not support "amnesty," "sanctuary cities" or "open borders.”

"It is this week what it's always been. No amnesty, no sanctuary cities so that innocent victims like Kate Steinle, who was murdered right in front of her father in San Francisco over a year ago ... by a man who had been deported five times," Conway says on CNN's "New Day."

Immigration hard-liners appear to be embracing the new message, saying the softer tone conveys a more practical approach to deportation.

Trump's shifting remarks on immigration illustrate the dilemma the GOP faces in national elections, working to balance the success of hard-line positions in primaries with a general-election shift to the center to attract the growing Hispanic vote.