WASHINGTON D.C. - After a difficult weekend that included massive protests across the country over President Trump’s executive order on immigration, including criticism from within the Republican Party, Trump administration officials appeared on Monday to be putting much of the blame on Stephen Miller, a young White House staffer, reportedly the driving force behind the order published last Friday.
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The Los Angeles Times quoted two Trump administration officials noting Miller’s outsized influence within the White House, and reported that he “effectively ran the National Security Council principals meeting on Saturday.” Miller, 31, is a former congressional aide who was involved in writing speeches and planning political strategy for the Trump campaign. He has no relevant experience in national security and foreign affairs.
The Times quoted officials as saying that "Bannon and Miller at one point overruled an interpretation by Homeland Security officials in favor of a more limited policy that blocked green card holders until they apply for a waiver from the ban."
Much of the Republican criticism hurled at the Trump administration over the weekend had to do specifically with this decision.
On Monday morning, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, who met Trump over the weekend and is on regular speaking terms with the president, also lashed out at Miller from the set of his morning show. “Why did Stephen Miller fight so hard to put out this order on Friday without talking to any of the other agencies?” Scarborough asked, referring to multiple weekend reports that government agencies dealing with immigration and homeland security were not briefed in advance on the executive order’s implications.
“It was Stephen Miller sitting in the White House, saying, we’re not going to go to the other agencies, we’re not going to talk to the lawyers, we’re going to do this alone. You got a very young person in the White House on a power trip, thinking you can just write executive orders and tell all your cabinet agencies to go to hell,” Scarborough said, adding that Washington was “in an uproar” because of Miller’s handling of the executive order.
Even before the weekend’s events, White House insiders were telling the press that they were “astonished” by the influence that Miller and his closest administration ally, senior Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, seemed to have on the president. The Axios news website reported last week that Bannon, the former editor of the extremist right-wing website Breitbart News, and Miller, who in the past worked for current Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions, have written many of Trump’s executive orders and actions. They also encouraged the president to verbally attack Mexico and the media over his proposed border wall.
Conservative columnist William Kristol, who was a leading critic of Trump during the election campaign, wrote Monday morning that “[the] media is scapegoating Stephen Miller for the Executive Order. But Miller acts at the direction of Stephen Bannon.” And while Bannon has in the past been accused of making anti-Semitic comments, Miller, a California native, is Jewish, which makes him the second closest Jewish adviser to the president, after Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
In December, when Miller was named senior adviser for policy to the incoming president, Trump praised him as being “deeply committed to the America First agenda, and understands the policies and actions necessary to put that agenda into effect.”
Miller is frequently referred to as Bannon’s “right hand” and the two men are considered prime architects of Trump’s positions on immigration and trade. The two men set the tone for the presidency, penning Trump’s dark, dystopian “American carnage” inauguration speech.
Miller grew up in a liberal Jewish home in Santa Monica, California, but became conservative, populist and suspicious of immigrants at a young age. He joined the Trump campaign in January 2016, playing what Trump described as a “central and wide-ranging role,” serving both as Trump’s chief speech writer and as his warm-up act, making angry, anti-government speeches that would stir up the crowds at rallies before the candidate made his appearance.
Before joining the Trump campaign, Miller was communications director for then-Alabama Senator Sessions, who was one of the first national-level Republicans to come out in support of Trump. Miller is credited with playing a key role in Sessions’ efforts to kill immigration reform in 2014.
According to a profile of Miller in Politico, which painted him as “an obscure character suddenly elevated to a national role by dint of hard work, loyalty and the boss’s favor” while he worked for Sessions, he regularly sent “information blasts to a list of a couple hundred Hill staffers with data on the negative impact of immigration on wages, national security, and on what Miller refers to as ‘criminal aliens.’”
He previously worked as a press secretary for two other conservative Republicans – Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Congressman John Shadegg.
In his work on Capitol Hill, Miller forged close ties with Breitbart News and the company’s executive chairman at the time, Bannon.
Though he describes himself as a “practicing Jew,” he has been vocal in fighting separation of church and state as promoted by the “secular left,” writing as a student in support of Christmas trees and other campus religious symbols and arguing that “Christianity is embedded in the very soul of our nation.”
White nationalist leader Richard Spencer has described himself as being Miller’s friend and mentor at Duke University when both of them were members of the conservative student union. Spencer told Mother Jones magazine that while Miller “is not alt-right or a white nationalist or an identitarian,” he believed Miller – and Trump – would “do good things for white Americans.”