As The Washington Post put it in their headline, Wednesday's White House press briefing went "completely off the rails."
Stephen Miller, senor policy adviser to President Donald Trump, and CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta got into a vicious exchange over the RAISE Act, which would drastically cut legal immigration. (RAISE stands for "Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment.")
"This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families," Trump said. "And demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy. The RAISE Act prevents new immigrants and new migrants from collecting welfare, and protects U.S. workers from being displaced. And that's a very big thing. They're not going to come in and just immediately go and collect welfare. That's not going to happen under the RAISE Act, they can't do that."
By the end of the White House press briefing with Miller, though, the public hadn't learned much about the new proposal except that Miller is a practiced insulter, and Acosta wasn't going to get any real answers.
After delivering his speech at the briefing, Miller gave his final question to Acosta. The journalist quoted a portion of the famous poem inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, mentioning that it says nothing about speaking English and having a certain level of job skill.
In response, Miller, who is a staunch supporter of Trump's immigration policies, downplayed Emma Lazarus' sonnet “The New Colossus."
The White House aide began to give a history lesson, saying those famous lines had actually been added later and were not part of the original Lady Liberty — as if that somehow validated the administration's immigration policies.
After debating history for a minute, the discussion turned to the elephant in every Trump immigration press briefing: the border wall. Acosta attempted to put Miller's description of the United States' history of immigration as an "ebb and flow" into perspective, touching on the wall as a "sweeping change" to policy.
“Surely, Jim, you don't actually think that a wall affects green-card policy,” Miller admonished. “You couldn't possibly believe that, do you? … Do you really at CNN not know the difference between green-card policy and illegal immigration? I mean, you really don't know that?”
Acosta responded by briefly describing his own father's immigration to the U.S. shortly before the Cuban missile crisis and addressing how immigrants work to obtain green cards after they have entered the country, many learning English along the way.
"This whole notion of 'well they have to learn English before they get into the United States'...Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?" he asked, walking into the next attack.
"I have to say, I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English,” Miller preened. “It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree.”
“It just sounds like you're trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country," Acosta continued once Miller finished ranting.
"That is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you’ve ever said,” replied an increasingly agitated Miller, although whether or not he was sincere was hard to tell. “The notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so wrong and so insulting.”
"Racist bill" — Miller's words, not Acosta's.
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