White House Aide Was Against Immigration Policy Before He Was for It

Stephen Miller’s brawl with CNN, New York Times frames rough press briefing

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller called a CNN reporter “ignorant” and “foolish.” (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP File Photo)
White House senior adviser Stephen Miller called a CNN reporter “ignorant” and “foolish.” (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP File Photo)
Posted August 2, 2017 at 5:01pm

Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller clashed sharply with reporters over an immigration overhaul bill President Donald Trump endorsed Wednesday — but Miller was now advocating an immigration policy that he disparaged just a few short years ago when he was a senior Capitol Hill aide. 

During a heated exchanged that featured raised voices and name-calling, the senior White House official referred to veteran CNN reporter Jim Acosta as “ignorant” and “foolish.” Miller also referred to Acosta’s line of questioning about the bill, which would overhaul U.S. green card policies, as “outrageous.”

Acosta and other reporters asked tough questions a few hours after Trump appeared with GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia in the Roosevelt Room to roll out legislation that would impose a skills-based criteria on individuals hoping to obtain U.S. citizenship. Miller appeared at the top of the daily White House press briefing Wednesday to discuss the bill.

However, while Miller made a pitch for increasing visas for immigrants with specific skills, he was opposed to such an approach in his Capitol Hill days. In a 2014 email while he was a staffer for Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Miller appeared to oppose that idea.

“As has been widely documented, there is already a very slack labor market in the IT and STEM fields, pushing down wages and salaries for American workers,” he wrote in a blast email ahead of an immigration-themed address by President Barack Obama. “In fact, universities graduate twice as many STEM students each year as there are openings to fill, and [three-fourths] of Americans with STEM degrees don’t have STEM jobs.”

Asked to comment about the two different positions, a White House spokeswoman did not respond.

Miller kept taking questions even as Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders inched closer to him. After taking what was to be his last question, which turned out to not be about the Trump-Cotton-Perdue bill, he called on Acosta.

The CNN reporter asked whether the Trump-backed immigration bill would, if it became law, render an inscription on the Statute of Liberty null and void. That poem reads, in part: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses …”

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The White House policy adviser reacted sharply.

“The poem that you’re referring to was added later,” Miller told Acosta, referring to the Emma Lazarus-penned 1883 sonnet below Lady Liberty’s feet.

The Trump-Cotton-Perdue legislation would also impose an English-language requirement on immigrants. To that end, Acosta asked: “Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?”

That’s when things got really heated.

“I have to honestly say, I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English,” Miller snapped. “It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking agree. … This is an amazing moment.”

As the duo bickered, a remarkable scene played out that left even veteran White House correspondents slack-jawed.

“Have you honestly never met an immigrant from another country who speaks English outside of Great Britain and Australia?” Miller asked Acosta. He called the reporter’s question “one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things you’ve ever said.”

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The CNN reporter took umbrage with Miller’s comments several times, and Trump’s policy adviser apologized — but not for his comments, just if he thought things got too “heated.”

Trump has harshly criticized CNN for months, often declaring it “fake news.” His spokespersons have sometimes avoided calling on its reporters during briefings.

The exchange followed another tense one between Miller and New York Times scribe Glenn Thrush over immigration statistics.

The Miller-Acosta exchange lasted around seven minutes and left most in the room shaking their heads.

“That was exciting,” Sanders said with a wry smile as she took over from Miller at the podium.

Reporters in the room reacted with gasps, groans and comments about whether it was a new low in briefing room decorum.