Jim Acosta took a rhetorical beating today.
Over the past couple of months he’s been one of the loudest voices grousing about the Trump administration’s policy of conducting off-camera press briefings. Listening to him, a person might have been under the impression that the First Amendment features a clause granting senior White House correspondents from CNN the right to grandstand on national TV every day.
Acosta happens to be one of the strongest arguments for keeping daily briefings off camera. Most often these exchanges are excruciatingly uninformative, pitting dishonest administration officials against crusading journalists who offer ideological statements in the form of pretend questions.
But the crusader had a chance to ask a serious question today. He didn’t.
President Donald Trump backed legislation by senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue this afternoon that would reform the immigration system in a number of consequential ways, including limiting green cards for extended family members and factoring in education levels, job skills, and proficiency in English. Stephen Miller, the president’s senior advisor for policy, was at the podium answering questions.
You can agree with the aim of this policy or not — I tend to lean pro-immigration, in general — but the bill is a reaction to genuine concerns of millions of Americans who gave Republicans the majority and presidency. It is policy that deserves serious questions from the press. And whether you like him or not, Miller was offering serious answers, which is supposedly how we keep the lights on in a democracy.
“What you’re proposing,” Acosta begins his sermon, “or what the president is proposing, doesn’t seem, does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration.”
He then looks at his notes and says.
“The Statue of Liberty says …”
The Statue of Liberty says.
“It says ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ it doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being a computer programmer,” Acosta goes on, “Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them they have to speak English.”
Yes. Acosta is going to quote “The New Colossus,” a poem that was attached to the statue in 1903, which is neither a policy guide nor a reflection of the Constitution nor anything but a beautiful rhetorical nod to the millions of immigrants, like my parents, who came here under the strictures Americans set on immigration. Because we have them. We always have.
First of all, is it really un-American to expect immigrants to speak English? As Miller pointed out, some proficiency in English is already a requirement for those who want to be naturalized. Yet, Acosta asks: “Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?” I happen to live in an immigrant-heavy neighborhood, and most of the people around me speak English pretty well. Not one is from England or Australia.
Is it un-American, as Acosta alleges, to regulate the number of immigrants we allow in the country? Does “The New Colossus” say: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but keep them at around one million new green cards every year or it’s un-American?”
Is it un-American to give preference to immigrants who have already shown the propensity to assimilate? Is it un-American to prioritize immigrants who have skills in jobs we need filled? Is any reform of immigration — other than to legalize millions by executive fiat — un-American? I may disagree with a certain immigration policy, but changing the parameters of immigration policy is not an unpatriotic act.
When Miller properly explained how “The New Colossus” found its way onto the base of the Statue of Liberty, the CNN reporter interrupted the accurate statement to claim it is “National Park revisionism.” He fumbles about, conflating green-card policy with illegal immigration — probably because many on the Left have worked diligently to erase this distinction — attempting to filibuster the conversation.
It’s always annoying when partisans claim their side has “destroyed” the other. Typically, it’s not so. In this case, however, I’m not sure how any open-minded person could possibly believe that Acosta had come out on top. You can watch for yourself.
Full exchange between Stephen Miller & @acosta on Statue of Liberty & immigration. “It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree.” pic.twitter.com/9eHTiNaR4G
— CSPAN (@cspan) August 2, 2017
Open immigration has become a rite on the Left, as American as anything in the Constitution. Reporters generally reflect this attitude. So these exchanges become debates rather than journalistic encounters. Maybe that’s more constructive, I don’t know. But it is just another reason half the country doesn’t trust most major media outlets anymore. And if that’s the kind of programming CNN and others are interested in, they should do us a favor and send someone to the White House who has policy chops and a far better grasp of history.
(I stole the headline from Sean Davis.)