White House aide battles reporters over Trump immigration plan

White House aide battles reporters over Trump immigration plan
© Getty

Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller battled with reporters Wednesday over a Trump-backed plan to dramatically slash legal immigration to the U.S. 

During a combative briefing at the White House, Miller accused a CNN reporter of showing “cosmopolitan bias” for questioning whether the policy upholds American values and cast doubt on the Statue of Liberty’s historical significance as a beacon for immigrants.

That all came after Miller got into a heated exchange with a New York Times reporter over whether there is statistical evidence to back up the administration’s claim that cutting the number of green cards would help American workers.

ADVERTISEMENT

The 30-minutes of heated talk marked a return to the spotlight for Miller, who has kept a low profile since the rocky rollout of the president’s travel ban earlier this year. 

It also came days after retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly took over as Trump’s chief of staff with a mandate to restore order and calm to the West Wing.

But Wednesday’s briefing was anything but orderly, with reporters and Miller engaging in lengthy arguments that at times became personal.

The tensions reached a boiling point when CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta — a frequent target of the Trump administration’s ire — asked Miller if the bill, which would prioritize merit-based immigration over family reunification, went against the Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty, which says “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

“The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty lighting the world,” Miller responded. “The poem you are referring to, which was added later, is not part of the original Statue of Liberty.”

Acosta shot back that Miller was peddling “some sort of National Park revisionism.”

When Acosta asked if the bill’s preference for English speakers was designed so that the U.S. would only take in people from Great Britain and Australia, Miller exploded. 

"I can honestly say: I am shocked at your statement that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English,” Miller said, speaking over Acosta, who tried to interject several times. “It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree — this is an amazing moment.”

Acosta responded by accusing the Trump White House of trying to “engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country,” a claim Miller called, "one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things you've ever said."

The stunning exchange drew laughter and scoffs from several reporters inside the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room. Even White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who stood at Miller’s side, cracked a smile. 

"That was exciting," she quipped after Miller left the podium.

The CNN reporter, whose father came to the U.S. from Cuba, took issue with Miller’s claim that he was “ignorant,” prompting him to apologize “if things got heated.”

Miller appeared to relish the fight during an earlier back-and-forth with Glenn Thrush of The New York Times, who challenged him to produce data to show a direct link between low-skill immigration and job loss for U.S. workers.

Miller named several studies that he said backed up the administration’s claims, adding that such claims are also supported by “common sense.”

“I’m not asking for common sense,” Thrush responded. “I’m asking for specific statistical data.”

“I think it's pretty clear, Glenn, that you're not asking for common sense,” Miller retorted.

After Thrush responded that, “common sense is fungible, statistics are not,” Miller suggested the administration would “create a carve-out in the bill that says The New York Times can hire all the less-skilled, low-paid workers from other countries.”

“See how you feel about it then,” he added. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The verbal jousting didn’t necessarily come as a surprise to many of the Washington journalists who often engaged in similar exchanges with Miller when he was a top aide to then-Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: Ukraine's not the only outrage To understand death behind bars, we need more information White House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations MORE (R-Ala.), one of the upper chamber’s leading immigration hawks. 

The difference is that Miller is now one of the president’s most influential advisers on immigration and the sparring played out live on national television, instead of over the telephone. 

But Miller has seldom spoken publicly since February, when he made comments during a string of cable news appearances that may have undercut the administration’s legal case for the travel ban he helped draft. 

Miller said on Fox News that the revised travel ban, which was then in the works, would “have the same basic policy outcome for the country” as the first ban that was blocked by federal courts and that the changes would be “mostly minor technical differences.” 

The adviser later had to clean up his statement, saying the revisions, though minor, would help the policy pass legal muster.

Trump typically relishes when his aides clash with the media; he enjoyed outgoing White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s early briefings for the ratings they drew.