Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why I gag when White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller talks

The Washington Post carried a summary of a press conference in which Stephen Miller vs. Jim Acosta sent the White House news briefing completely off the rails.

How strange was Wednesday’s White House press briefing? Put it this way: Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs — who set a pretty high bar for weirdness when he was body slammed by a congressional candidate just 10 weeks ago — found the scene in the briefing room so strange that he joked about unwittingly ingesting a hallucinogenic.

Here’s what happened.

White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller was about to finish his turn at the microphone when, declaring that the last question was not sufficiently on topic, he said he would take one more and pointed to CNN’s Jim Acosta.

If you are not familiar with the characters here, allow me to share quick bios. Miller is the aide to President Trump who made a memorable and rather authoritarian proclamation on TV in February: “Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.” Acosta is the CNN reporter who got under Trump’s skin during a January news conference, prompting Trump to exclaim, “You are fake news!”

When I saw Miller on TV making that authoritarian, monarchical pronouncement, my democratic digestive processes churned. In all my years, I have rarely (if ever?) had such an immediate visceral reaction to another person like I had with Miller. Even those with whom I vehemently disagree. Even those who I consider irreparably brain damaged. Even those who I know are crooks and liars. But Miller? Yeccccchhhhh!

Who, Mr. and Mrs. Scriber asked of each other, would be stupid enough to let this guy anywhere near a reporter and a TV camera let alone the podium at a White House press conference? Somebody did with predictable results.

You can read more of the Washington Post summary but it does not do justice to the Miller-Acosta bout.

In an exchange that will surely delight Trump’s media-hating base, Miller tore into Acosta without really engaging in substance.

Acosta quoted part of the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) and asked whether the Trump administration’s newly unveiled, merit-based proposal for granting green cards is in keeping with U.S. tradition.

Miller responded with an obtuse answer about how “the poem that you’re referring to was added later, is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”

Acosta brought up Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the southern border, in an apparent effort to put the plan released on Wednesday into a broader context. “You want to bring about a sweeping change to the immigration system,” he said.

Instead of tackling Acosta’s big-picture question, Miller accused him of conflating separate issues.

Acosta referred to Trump’s plan to award points to green-card applicants based on English proficiency and asked, “Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?”

Rather than defend the fairness of Trump’s proposed emphasis on English skills, Miller said Acosta had just insulted English speakers from every country other than Britain and Australia.

“I am shocked at your statement, that you think only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English,” he said. “It’s actually — it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree. … This is an amazing moment. That you think only people from Great Britain or Australia would know English is so insulting to millions of hard-working immigrants who do speak English from all over the world. Jim, have you honestly never met an immigrant from another country who speaks English, outside of Great Britain and Australia? Is that your personal experience?”

And later on Miller really went over the top.

ACOSTA: It just sounds like you’re trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country through this policy.

MR. MILLER: Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you’ve ever said, and for you that’s still a really – the notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so wrong and so insulting.

Fortunately, the White House itself published an official transcript from which I excerpt exchanges between Miller and Acosta and another reporter - after the break.

But first let me leave you with this. You know, it’s often said that we are a nation of immigrants. So, one might very well wonder about the lineage of Miller. And that of his mentor Steve Bannon. And that of the mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway. And that of their boss, Trump the President.

Daily Kos covers a Washington Post report on all that. Stick with me here. This is choice.

It turns out Stephen Miller’s immigrant great-grandmother couldn’t speak English.

Stephen Miller is a strange man. A strange, racist man. A strange, racist, gives-you-the-heebie-jeebies man. On Wednesday, after Donald Trump announced his anti-immigrant immigration idea, Miller was sent out to talk with the press corps, because there are few people who can freak everybody out as much as Stephen Miller can. After parroting white supremacist talking points on immigrants not being able to speak English and the Statue of Liberty being a propaganda campaign by who-knows-who (probably Bolsheviks!), thinking folk decided to figure out how large a hypocrite Mr. Miller was. It didn’t take long.

[tweet] “Stephen Miller favors immigrants who speak English. But the 1910 census shows his own great-grandmother couldn’t. #oops”

As someone in Twitter thread pointed out, this makes Miller similar, in one respect, to humanity.

And as the Washington Post points out, the only good advertisement for this racist and scapegoating immigration policy is that it may have spared us from our current leadership.

A biographer of Trumpf — father of Fred Trump, who was the father of the president — told Deutsche Welle that Donald Trump’s grandfather didn’t speak English when he got here.


Reporter Jennifer Mendelsohn tracked down Miller’s genealogy. She discovered that Miller’s father’s father’s mother — his great-grandmother, Sarah Miller — was identified in the 1910 Census as speaking only Yiddish.


Kellyanne Conway’s great-grandfather was named Pasquale Lombardo and was born in Naples, Italy. A man of that name and the proper age is identified in the 1910 Census as living in Pennsylvania and working as a blast furnace laborer who spoke only Italian.

Stephen K. Bannon’s great-great-grandfather was a man named Mattias Herr, who was born in Bavaria in 1836 before moving to Maryland. It’s not clear whether he spoke English or knew a skilled trade.

Maybe they will retroactively deport themselves?

And here is one more from the Post.

Elaine Chao, Trump’s secretary of transportation (and wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), was born in Taiwan and came to the United States in 1961, when she was 8.

She described that transition in a CNN interview last month.

“I remember how tough it was to try to learn a new culture, a new language and just to adapt to, like, ordinary daily stuff like the food. Like, most Chinese don’t eat meat between breads,” she said. As she tried to learn the language, “the kids were mean to me,” she said.

Her father, who spoke English, was already in the United States when Chao and her mother and sisters arrived, working in the maritime industry. Would that have been enough to warrant admission? To bring over his family?

This, it seems, was Acosta’s point: Doesn’t two centuries of experience show that people who arrive in America without the ability to speak English or a highly skilled trade can have a significant impact on the future of the country?

One last thought: at one point in our history, intelligence tests invented in the early 1900s were administered to immigrants from southern Europe. The thing is, those immigrants could not speak English. Because the tests were administered in English those immigrants were deemed intellectually inferior and thus not deserving of admission to the United States. I wonder how Conway’s ancestor managed to squeak by.

We seem doomed to repeat the ugliest parts of our immigration history. We are a nation of immigrants - that is, until we are comfortably established and then we are not.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders set the stage for the press conference.

Before we get started, I’d like to hand it over to Stephen Miller, senior advisor to the President, to speak with you about the RAISE Act that the President endorsed this morning. And I know you guys will have lot of fun.

The reason why Miller was on stage was to defend the Trump administration’s support for limited legal immigration by restricting the number of green cards available to immigrants who speak English and have skills sufficient to land well paying jobs. In Miller’s words: “we’re proposing to limit family-based migration to spouses and minor children. Additionally, we’re establishing a new entry system that’s points-based. Australia has a points-based system, Canada has a points-based system. And what will this system look at? It will look at: Does the applicant speak English? Can they support themselves and their families financially? Do they have a skill that will add to the U.S. economy? Are they being paid a high wage?”

Miller started with Glenn Thrush (“Q”) of the New York Times.

Q Two quick questions. First of all, let’s have some statistics. There have been a lot of studies out there that don’t show a correlation between low-skilled immigration and the loss of jobs for native workers. Cite for me, if you could, one or two studies with specific numbers that prove the correlation between those two things – because your entire policy is based on that.

And secondly, I have sources that told me, about a month ago, that you guys have sort of elbowed infrastructure out of the way to get immigration on the legislative queue. Tell me why this is more important than infrastructure.

MR. MILLER: Look, the latter statement isn’t true.

I think the most recent study I would point to is the study from George Borjas that he just did about the Mariel boatlift. And he went back and reexamined and opened up the old data, and talked about how it actually did reduce wages for workers who were living there at the time.

And Borjas has, of course, done enormous amounts of research on this, as has Peter Kirsanow on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, as has Steve Camarota at the Center for Immigration Studies, and so on and so –

Q How about the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine?

MR. MILLER: Right. And their recent study said that as much as $300 billion a year may be lost as a result of our current immigration system in terms of folks drawing more public benefits than they’re paying in.

But let’s also use common sense here, folks. At the end of the day, why do special interests want to bring in more low-skilled workers? And why historically –

Q Stephen, I’m not asking for common sense. I’m asking for specific statistical data.

MR. MILLER: Well, I think it’s very clear, Glenn, that you’re not asking for common sense, but if I could just answer your question.

Q No, no, not common sense. Common sense is fungible. Statistics are not.

MR. MILLER: I named the studies, Glenn.

Q Let me just finish the question. Tell me the specific –

MR. MILLER: Glenn, Glenn, Glenn – I named the studies. I named the studies.

Q I asked you for a statistic. Can you tell me how many –

MR. MILLER: Glenn, maybe we’ll make a carve-out in the bill that says the New York Times can hire all the low-skilled, less-paid workers they want from other countries, and see how you feel then about low-wage substitution. This is a reality that’s happening in our country.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. MILLER: Maybe it’s time we had compassion, Glenn, for American workers. President Trump has met with American workers who have been replaced by foreign workers.

Q Oh, I understand. I’m not questioning any of that. I’m asking for –

MR. MILLER: And ask them – ask them how this has affected their lives.

Q I’m not asking them. I’m asking you for a number.

MR. MILLER: Look at – I just told you.

Q Give me the number of low-skilled jobs that Americans might otherwise have –

MR. MILLER: If you look at – first of all, if you look at the premise, Glenn, of bringing in low-skilled labor, it’s based on the idea that there’s a labor shortage for lower-skilled jobs. There isn’t. The number of people living in the United States in the working ages who aren’t working today is at a record high. …

So we can scratch the statistical evidence favoring the administration’s policy. They won’t tell us.

Later Miller turned to Acosta (“Q”) for a last question.

Q What you’re proposing, or what the President is proposing here does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration. The Statue of Liberty says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being able to be 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 you have to speak English? Can’t people learn how to speak English when they get here?

MR. MILLER: Well, first of all, right now it’s a requirement that to be naturalized you have to speak English. So the notion that speaking English wouldn’t be a part of our immigration system would be actually very ahistorical.

Secondly, I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty and lighting the world. It’s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to, that was added later, is not actually a part of the original Statue of Liberty.

But more fundamentally, the history –

Q You’re saying that that does not represent what the country –

MR. MILLER: I’m saying that the notion –

Q – has always thought of as immigration coming into this country?

MR. MILLER: I’m saying the notion –

Q Stephen, I’m sorry, but that sounds like some –

MR. MILLER: Jim, let me ask you a question.

Q That sounds like some National Park revisionism. (Laughter.)

MR. MILLER: No. What I’m asking you is –

Q The Statue of Liberty has always been a beacon of hope to the world for people to send their people to this country –

MR. MILLER: Jim – Jim, do you believe –

Q – and they’re not always going to speak English, Stephen. They’re not always going to be highly skilled. They’re not always going to be somebody who can go to work at Silicon Valley right away.

MR. MILLER: Jim, I appreciate your speech. So let’s talk about this.

Q It was a modest and incremental speech.

MR. MILLER: Jim, let’s talk about this. In 1970, when we let in 300,000 people a year, was that violating or not violating the Statue of Liberty law of the land? In the 1990s, when it was half-a-million a year, was it violating or not violating the Statue of Liberty law of the land?

Q Was it violating the Statue of Liberty and the –

MR. MILLER: No, tell me what years – tell me what years –

Q (Inaudible) call for a deportation force?

MR. MILLER: Tell me what years meet Jim Acosta’s definition of the Statue of Liberty poem law of the land. So you’re saying a million a year is the Statue of Liberty number? 900,000 violates it? 800,000 violates it?

Q You’re sort of bringing a “press one for English” philosophy here to immigration, and that’s never been what the United States has been about, Stephen. I mean, that’s just the case –

Mr. MILLER: But your statement is also shockingly ahistorical in another respect, too – which is, if you look at the history of immigration, it’s actually ebbed and flowed. You’ve had periods of very large waves, followed by periods of less immigration and more immigration. And during the –

Q We’re in a low period of immigration right now. The President wants to build a wall and you want to bring about a sweeping change to the immigration system.

MR. MILLER: Surely, Jim, you don’t actually think that a wall affects Green Card policy. You couldn’t possibly believe that, or do you? Actually, the notion that you actually think immigration is at a historic lull – the foreign-born population in the United States today –

Q The President was just with the new Chief of Staff on Monday talking about how border crossings were way down.

MR. MILLER: I want to be serious, Jim. Do you really at CNN not know the difference between Green Card policy and illegal immigration? You really don’t know the –

Q Sir, my father was a Cuban immigrant. He came to this country in 1962 right before the Cuban Missile Crisis and obtained a Green Card.

Yes, people who immigrate to this country can eventually – people who immigrate to this country not through Ellis Island, as your family may have, but in other ways, do obtain a Green Card at some point. They do it through a lot of hard work. And, yes, they may learn English as a second language later on in life. But this whole notion of “well, they have to learn English before they get to the United States,” are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?

MR. MILLER: Jim, it’s actually – 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. It’s actually – it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree that in your mind –

Q Sir, it’s not a cosmopolitan –

MR. MILLER: No, this is an amazing moment. This an amazing moment. That you think only people from Great Britain or Australia would speak English is so insulting to millions of hardworking immigrants who do speak English from all over the world.

Q My father came to this country not speaking any English.

MR. MILLER: Jim, have you honestly never met an immigrant from another country who speaks English outside of Great Britain and Australia? Is that your personal experience?

Q Of course, there are people who come into this country from other parts of the world.

MR. MILLER: But that’s not what you said, and it shows your cosmopolitan bias. And I just want to say –

Q It just sounds like you’re trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country through this policy.

MR. MILLER: Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you’ve ever said, and for you that’s still a really – the notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so wrong and so insulting.

Q I didn’t say it was a racist bill.

MR. MILLER: Jim, the reality is, is that the foreign-born population into our country has quadrupled since 1970. That’s a fact. It’s been mostly driven by Green Card policy. Now, this bill allows for immediate nuclear family members to come into the country, much as they would today, and it adds an additional points-based system. The people who have been hurt the most –

Q You’re saying that people have to be English speaking when they’re naturalized. What is this English-speaking component that you’ve inserted into this? I don’t understand.

MR. MILLER: The people who have been hurt the most by the policy you’re advocating are –

Q What policy am I advocating?

MR. MILLER: Apparently, just unfettered, uncontrolled migration. The people who have been hurt the most by the policy –

Q (Inaudible) is for open borders. That’s the same tired thing that –

MR. MILLER: The people who have been hurt the most by the policy you’re advocating are immigrant workers and minority workers and African American workers and Hispanic workers.

Q Are you targeting the African American community? Now you brought it up again – you said you wanted to have a conversation and not target. Is it going to be a targeted effort? You keep using the African American community. Are you going to target? I’m not trying to be funny, but you keep saying this.

MR. MILLER: Right, I know. What you’re saying is 100 percent correct.

Q Thank you.

MR. MILLER: We want to help unemployed African Americans in this country and unemployed workers of all backgrounds get jobs. And insinuations like Jim made trying to ascribe nefarious motives to a compassion immigration measure designed to help newcomers and current arrivals alike is wrong. And this is a positive, optimist proposal that says 10 years, 20 years, 30 years from now –

Q Sir, I didn’t call you ignorant. You called me ignorant on national television. Honestly, I think that’s just inappropriate.

MR. MILLER: – we want to have an immigration system that takes care of the people who are coming here and the people who are already living here by having standards, by having a real clear requirement that you should be able to support yourself financially, by making sure that employers can pay a living wage. That’s the right policy for our country, and it’s the President’s commitment to taking care of American workers.

I apologize, Jim, if things got heated. But you did make some pretty rough insinuations.

Q I don’t know what you mean by rough insinuations. I don’t know what that means.

MR: MILLER: So, thank you. Thank you. And I’ll hand it over to Sarah.

I think that went exactly as planned. I think that was what Sarah was hoping would happen. (Laughter.)

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