Donald Trump and his surrogates pushed back against the idea that the Republican nominee is softening his hardline positions on immigration, with the GOP nominee himself insisting there was no “flip-flopping” on his part.
The campaign has found itself on the defensive after BuzzFeed reported over the weekend that Trump had indicated an openness to legalization for undocumented immigrants and after his new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said Trump’s use of a deportation force is “to be determined.”
Trump on Monday was vague when pressed about his specific immigration plans, but was adamant that he’s not shifting on the issue that has been core to his campaign.
“We have to be very firm. We have to be very, very strong when people come in illegally,” Trump told “Fox & Friends.” “We have a lot of people that want to come in through the legal process and it’s not fair for them. And we’re working with a lot of people in the Hispanic community to try and come up with an answer.”
Co-host Steve Doocy later pressed, “So you’re not flip-flopping?”
“No, I’m not flip-flopping,” Trump responded. “We want to come up with one a really fair, but firm answer. That’s — it has to be very firm. But we want to come up with something fair.”
Trump’s campaign has ratcheted up its outreach to minority groups, with the billionaire meeting on Saturday with a group of Hispanic leaders in Manhattan. He had been expected to deliver a major speech on immigration in Colorado on Thursday, but reports emerged Monday afternoon that the speech had been postponed without explanation.
Regardless, Trump has a long way to go with the Latino community. Trump’s approval ratings with Hispanic voters are dismal after he called many immigrants “rapists,” pledged to build a giant wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and threatened to kick out millions of undocumented immigrants through the use of a deportation force.
Trump talked up the weekend meeting during a Monday morning call to “Fox & Friends,” calling the participants “great people” and “highly respected people in the community, unbelievable people.”
He also attacked BuzzFeed for its report. “Just to tell you about BuzzFeed, they guaranteed that I wasn’t going to run and the writer that wrote the article said he’ll take a year’s salary off if I run. And I ran,” Trump remarked, referring to writer McKay Coppins’ betting his entire annual salary on Trump not appearing on the Iowa ballot.
Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, also defended the billionaire, telling Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt that he did not think “the message is changing at all. I think people are just getting to know Donald Trump better,” in an excerpt from an interview conducted over the weekend aired Monday.
And Conway disputed the idea that Trump has ever been concrete with a proposal to deport 11 million people in the country illegally.
“Even Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was one of the first to endorse Donald Trump and is known for the immigration issue, he doesn’t deport 11 million people in his plan,” Conway said in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday. “In other words, what Donald Trump says is we need a fair and effective way to deal with the 11 million here who are here who live among us, at the same time protecting American jobs and American workers and also securing our borders obviously. But what he’s saying is immigration is a very complex issue with a very complex solution.”
That solution, Conway continued, is “not just about building the wall, it’s not just about border security, it’s not just about American jobs, but it’s also — we need to be fair but we need to be fair to all those concerned. Not just fair to 11 million illegal immigrants who are here but also fair to Americans who feel like they can’t find a job because there’s that kind of competition now.
Eric Trump offered a similar line of defense on Monday.
“Listen, I don’t know where the article came from. Actually, my father’s speaking about immigration all week, so I won’t steal his thunder and his fire,” Eric Trump said on “Fox & Friends,” teasing out the week’s theme. “But you know, my father’s immigration plan is pretty simple. He wants secure borders. You have to know who’s coming into the United States of America. You can’t let people come in unchecked. We have 100 million people in this country that are out of the workforce. Right? I mean we have manufacturing jobs in this country have gone down one-third since 2000. We’re losing jobs across the board, yet people are walking in unchecked and we don’t know who they are. And they could be ISIS.”
Trump said his father “wants a safe country, and he also wants Americans to have jobs.”
“I mean, they should come first. You were born in this country. You were born here legally. You’re here legally. I mean, wages have been stagnant for the last 15 years and it’s because you have, you know, Syrian refugees coming in,” Eric Trump continued. “It’s because you have, you know, thousands of people coming over the border. I mean, and Americans are suffering because of it and that’s his point. So he’s speaking to Hispanic and Latino leaders and he’s having really amazing conversations. He’s also speaking to law enforcement, he’s speaking to border patrol. And you know he’s going formulate a really, really great plan that’s humane and ethical and that treats everybody well. But we have to solve the problem. It’s a real problem for this country.”
Asked his reaction to the idea that his father is flip-flopping, Eric Trump was firm.
“My father hasn’t flip-flopped on anything. This was all the auspices of one article that came out that didn’t really — wasn’t grounded in any substance,” Trump explained. “But again, my father is giving a big speech on this on Thursday so he’ll be talking a lot about the specifics.”
The Republican National Committee last week unveiled the first installment of a social media campaign aimed at repairing its relationship with the Hispanic community, laying out the party message on terrorism and foreign policy. On Monday, the RNC released a video in English and Spanish with José Fuentes Agostini, the former attorney general of Puerto Rico, casting Hillary Clinton’s economic policies as bad for Hispanics.
“Two million Hispanics are newly in poverty under President Obama, but Hillary Clinton still says he should get an ‘A’ for his handling of the economy,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a press release. “Our nation cannot afford more of the disastrous Obama economic policies which have kept wages flat and left Hispanic families behind, but that’s exactly what Hillary Clinton represents.”
But the leader of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said on Monday that it’s too little, too late from Trump.
“You know what, as I said a year ago right here on MSNBC, you can’t unring the bell with the Hispanic community,” said Javier Palomarez, the chamber’s president and CEO, during a panel discussion on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“Donald Trump began his political career by denouncing and insulting Hispanics all over this country,” Palomarez said. “This is a case of too little, too late. This is a very desperate candidate. And no speech is going to change that now.”