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How Stephen Miller is using the power Trump gave him

The problem is not just the fact that Stephen Miller is shaping the White House's immigration agenda. It's also how Miller is trying to implement his ideas.
Image: Senior White House Advisor Stephen Miller waits to go on the air in the White House Briefing Room in Washington
Senior White House Advisor Stephen Miller waits to go on the air in the White House Briefing Room in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua...

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Donald Trump, eager to implement a variety of right-wing measures on immigration, recently told Stephen Miller, "You're in charge" of the administration's immigration agenda.

At face value, that may help explain the president's newly aggressive posture on everything from closing the border to "getting rid of" judges to cutting off aid to Central America, but behind the scenes, conditions may be even more unsettling. The New York Times reported today:

Mr. Trump insisted in a tweet on Saturday that he was "not frustrated" by the situation at the border, where for months he has said there is a crisis that threatens the nation's security. But unable to deliver on his central promise of the 2016 campaign, he has targeted his administration's highest-ranking immigration officials.And behind that purge is Mr. Miller, the 33-year-old White House senior adviser. While immigration is the issue that has dominated Mr. Trump's time in office, the president has little interest or understanding about how to turn his gut instincts into reality. So it is Mr. Miller, a fierce ideologue who was a congressional spokesman before joining the Trump campaign, who has shaped policy, infuriated civil liberties groups and provoked a bitter struggle within the administration.

The problem is not just that the White House's entire immigration agenda is being shaped by a controversial young ideologue. Indeed, what's especially striking about the latest reporting is how Stephen Miller is shaping policy in the West Wing.

The New York Times highlighted a series of incidents in which Miller, ostensibly speaking on behalf of the president, demanded administration officials do more to deny welfare benefits to legal immigrants, work around court-ordered protections for migrant children, and make the review process more difficult for those seeking asylum.

Trump political appointees -- not career officials -- have pushed back against policies they considered "legally questionable, impractical, unethical or unreasonable," and that in turn has "further infuriated a White House set on making quick, sweeping changes to decades-old laws."

The article added that there was a meeting in which officials at Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) were on the receiving end of a Miller tirade and believed "it was almost as if Mr. Miller wanted asylum officers to ignore the law."

To state what is painfully obvious, a responsible White House shouldn't even consider governing this way. We're dealing with a dynamic in which an amateur president, unaware of how to implement his ideas and unwilling to learn, has effectively deputized a 33-year-old, far-right aide -- who has roughly as little governing experience as Trump -- who can't understand why a federal bureaucracy won't bend to his will.

Last week, the Washington Post's Greg Sargent described Miller as "one of the leading figures pushing the Trump administration toward increasing venality, corruption and lawlessness." That assessment has since been bolstered further.

Is it any wonder top House Democrats are eager to have Miller testify on his agenda and the steps he's taking to implement it?