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Stephen Miller Controls Immigration Policy, 2020 Reelection Strategy, and Trump

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“Miller is the captain of this ship. The question is whether the vessel for his sadistic cruelty — Trump and the GOP — can survive the voyage” – Frank Sharry

Two front-pagers from the Washington Post and New York Times put the spotlight on Stephen Miller this weekend, revealing what we basically already understood: Miller is driving immigration policy within the White House and has assembled a team to do his bidding for his nationalist, xenophobic world outlook. In this scenario, Trump is a bit player – a mouthpiece sympathetic to Miller’s whites-only policies and political strategy – but the real ideological juice comes from Miller, who has shaped the policies, decapitated opposition within the administration, and is instigating the Republican Party’s 2020 strategy based on unrelenting punishment of people of color, immigrants and their children.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: 

Miller has always been the Dark Lord lurking behind Trump, the showman and willing stooge. As these deep-dive pieces capture, he has cemented his grip on the President and the Republican Party. His goal is to make America white again.

Miller is the captain of this ship. The question is whether the vessel for his sadistic cruelty — Trump and the GOP — can survive the voyage. An all-out xenophobic campaign did not play well with Americans in 2018. There is mounting evidence that going full white nationalist is a risky strategy for 2020. But for now, Miller has mastered Trump and his fragile ego. He lavishes praise on the Dear Leader and makes nice with Javanka on his way to ferociously manipulating the levers of governance. If Trump and the GOP go down, let there be no doubt: this rat will not be able to desert the sinking ship.

Miller’s ghoulishness and success in playing Trump like a fiddle shines through in both the Washington Post profile, “The Ghostwriter: The Advisor Who Scripts Trump’s Immigration Policy,” by Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey – where Miller is described as having “influence in the West Wing… rivaled only by Jared Kushner” – and in Jason DeParle’s NYT story “How Stephen Miller Seized the Moment to Battle Immigration” -–where Miller is cast as “An intense young man with wary, hooded eyes and fiercely anti-immigrant views.”

The Post points out that by lurking in the background, Miller has an outsized influence over the malleable President who has little interest in policy or governing (excerpted here and available in full here):

Barely a decade removed from college, Miller is at the seat of power. His authority has grown in recent months as he engineered a leadership purge at the Department of Homeland Security, removing or reassigning the head of every immigration-related agency in a span of just seven weeks.

[…] Miller’s restrictionist immigration agenda has lent a degree of intellectual and ideological coherence to the gut-level animus that fuels Trump, furnishing a policy framework for the president’s “Make America Great Again” message.

The public charge rule is a case in point. “Does the president believe that poor immigrants who can’t support themselves should live off the public dole? No,” one senior official said. “Did he have any idea what the public charge rule was before Miller? No.”

“You can’t overstate how excited Stephen was for the public charge rule to be out there,” said a senior administration official…

[…] Right-wing populism armed him to wage a culture war against what he viewed as an empty multiculturalism. The career he has built since then is one, long, breathless polemic.

[…] Miller drafts most of the president’s public remarks, sometimes chatting with him beforehand to hear his thoughts and then crafting them into a speech. Trump often does not look at a speech until the plane ride before he gives it, current and former aides said, making Miller’s tone more influential.

“The thing about Stephen is he can bully anybody he wants because he and the president share similar views, and he is channeling the president’s beliefs,” said a senior official.

Because Trump has strong feelings about immigration but just superficial knowledge of how the immigration system works, the president relies heavily on Miller to explain and interpret it for him, the official said.

[…] During a span of six weeks, border agents took children away from migrant parents and sent the adults to court for prosecution. At least 2,600 families were separated until public outrage forced the president to back down.

Miller defended the separations and had encouraged the president to enact them — telling others in the West Wing they would prove to be a migration deterrent. Trump soon realized it was a “PR nightmare,” in the words of one senior administration official, and blamed Miller. The president also grew frustrated with Miller over the botched implementation of the travel ban in the first weeks of the administration.

Miller is among the few administration officials who continue to defend zero-tolerance separations today, insisting the approach would have worked if the policy had continued.

[…] While some in the administration fret over images of squalid and inhumane detention conditions at the border, Miller has argued that they, too, are a deterrent — and that publicizing them is not a bad strategy.

One longtime Trump adviser said Miller is frequently focused on how many people are coming over the border. “He would say, look at these statistics, you’re going to have a new city the size of Brooklyn or the Bronx every year? How long can the country sustain that?”

Senior officials at DHS say they sometimes feel torn between two bosses: the one who is close to the president and the other who actually runs their agency.

In the New York Times, Jason DeParle focussing on how Miller used the maturation of the anti-immigration movement to solidify the Party’s turn against legal immigration and aggressively attack broader immigrant communities and people of color through the attacks on immigration (excerpted here and available in full here):

[…An] element of Mr. Miller’s work involved his alliance with outside groups, especially three that Dr. Tanton helped create and that received millions of dollars from Mrs. May’s foundation. (Over a recent 12-year period alone, the foundation gave the Center for Immigration Studies $17.6 million, FAIR $56.7 million and NumbersUSA $58.2 million.)

[…] Despite the president’s public image as an unrelenting immigration foe, some restrictionist leaders view him as soft — a businessman whose desire for labor will lead him to support more immigration. That unreliability, they say, makes Mr. Miller’s presence especially important.

“If he [Miller] weren’t there, I’m pretty sure it’d be worse,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

[…] Mr. Miller now occupies a large West Wing office and has influence on virtually every element of immigration policy, from the words the president uses to the regulations he promulgates. Mr. Miller is a speechwriter, policy architect, personnel director, legislative aide, spokesman and strategist. At every step, he has pushed for the hardest line.

When Mr. Trump wavered on his pledge to abolish protections for 800,000 so-called Dreamers — people brought illegally to the United States as children — Mr. Miller urged conservative states to threaten lawsuits. Mr. Trump then canceled the protections.

When the president later mulled a deal to restore them, Mr. Miller stacked the negotiations with people who opposed the move, leading Mr. Trump to abandon compromise and rail against immigrants from “shithole countries.”

“As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere,” complained Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who supported a deal.

The Trump effort to curb immigration has played out amid so much chaos — judicial setbacks, congressional defeats, personnel purges, Twitter wars — that it can be hard to keep a running tally of its impact.

[…] Though Mr. Miller was often the driving force, many of these changes were longstanding goals of the restrictionist movement. “He comes from a community of people who’ve been working on this, some of them, since the ’90s,” said Roy Beck, the president of NumbersUSA.

Beyond the commas and clauses of government rules, Mr. Miller and Mr. Trump are trying to change something deeper: America’s self-conception as a land of immigrants. Mr. Trump is the son of an immigrant. Two of the three women he married are immigrants. Four of his five children have an immigrant parent. Yet his immigration agency rewrote its mission statement to remove the phrase “nation of immigrants.”

Mr. Miller even took to the White House briefing room to offer a revisionist view of the Statue of Liberty. Like many in his movement, he argued it should not be seen as welcoming immigrants because it was originally built for a different purpose (to celebrate political freedom) and that the Emma Lazarus poem hailing the “huddled masses” carries little meaning because it was added later.

[…] After long deliberation, the administration last week released a 217-page rule making it easier to deny admission or permanent residency to low-income immigrants deemed likely to receive public benefits. Unlike the border disputes, this so-called public charge rule affects only legal immigrants, since the unauthorized are already barred from most safety-net programs.

Critics say the rule is already causing needy immigrants to forgo health care and nutritional aid. They call it a backdoor way of circumventing Congress and creating a new immigration system that admits fewer people, excludes the “huddled masses,” and favors Europeans over poorer Mexican and Central Americans.

Mr. Miller was so eager to see the rule enacted, he helped push out a one-time ally, L. Francis Cissna, the head of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, for not moving fast enough.