Hours after Donald Trump endorsed the RAISE Act, a bill that would slash legal immigration in half, senior advisor Stephen Miller joined the administration’s daily press conference to defend the proposed merit-based system. Miller, apparently feeling overshadowed by recently ousted Anthony Scaramucci, decided instead to lecture a CNN reporter about his “cosmopolitan bias” and the original intention of the Statue of Liberty.
“This is an amazing moment,” Miller said to CNN’s Jim Acosta. Indeed, “amazing” is a word you could use to describe the exchange. There are probably others that are equally descriptive, ones that perhaps evoke the tiring blend of hostility, evasion, and racism that continues to define not only the tenor of the White House but its policies as well. But since Miller’s words were senseless, little more than the standard Trump-inspired spectacle meant only to reaffirm the White House’s closely held sense of its martyrdom, it’s perhaps best to stick with “amazing.”
The conversation between the two came after an already heated back-and-forth between Miller and the New York Times’s Glenn Thrush. “Maybe it’s time we had compassion for American workers,” Miller said, echoing Trump’s talking points during his endorsement of the RAISE ACT earlier in the day. Miller was apparently ready, having apparently practiced the standard catchphrases that are delivered in a distinctive humiliating tone that is the foundation of the White House’s interaction with seemingly everyone.
Acosta questioned whether or not the RAISE Act’s emphasis on English-speaking immigrants was “in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration.” Acosta pointed to the poem on the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus’s famous “The New Colossus,” which has become a kind of touchstone for America’s image of itself as a place historically welcoming of immigrants. Lazarus’s poem, Acosta said, “doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being a computer programmer.” “Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them they have to speak English?” he asked Miller. “Can’t they learn to speak English when they get here?”
Miller responded by offering a pedantic correction that purposefully missed the point of the question, obscuring a fundamental American romance that this is country formed by and for immigrants. “The Statue of Liberty....is a symbol of American liberty...the poem that you’re referring to was added later, is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty,” Miller said.
“They’re not always going to speak English, they’re not always going to be highly skilled,” Acosta responded. Miller went into a tirade accusing Acosta of “cosmopolitan bias” and attempted to turn the question into evidence of Acosta’s own racism. Acosta interjected that his father was a Cuban immigrant. “Have you honestly never met an immigrant who speaks English?” Miller responded before adding that “the notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so insulting.” “Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant and foolish things you’ve ever said,” Miller added.
“The people that hurt the most [from the] policy you’re advocating are immigrant worker, minority workers and African American workers and Hispanic workers,” Miller added. April Ryan followed up by asking about African American workers. Miller yelled as he answered “yes” to her question.
In the end, Miller smiled and apologized to Acosta “if things got heated” but added that the CNN reporter “made some rough insinuations.” It was surely a performance meant to appeal to supporters as it no doubt will. Miller’s outlandishness will overshadow the insidious racism of both the RAISE Act and his defense of it, turning it into a yet another cable news debate over the White House’s treatment of the press.
After Miller’s show concluded, Sarah Sanders read a letter from a 10-year-old boy who wrote to offer to mow the White House Lawn.