WASHINGTON -- Those defending President Donald Trump’s nativist initiatives would like to assure you that the policies are not based in bigotry.
Unfortunately for them, they keep bumping up against the facts.
Trump administration Solicitor General Noel Francisco, defending Trump’s travel ban at the Supreme Court last week, asked the justices to ignore Trump’s anti-Muslim statements during the campaign, because “the president has made crystal-clear on September 25th that he had no intention of imposing the Muslim ban.”
Alas, Trump made no such remarks on Sept. 25, 2017. In an extremely rare gesture, Francisco sent a letter to the justices Tuesday correcting the record. He meant to say Jan. 25, 2017. “It’s not a Muslim ban,” Trump told ABC News that day, “but it’s countries that have tremendous terror * people are going to come in and cause us tremendous problems.”
Still not crystal clear -- and Francisco’s correction created new problems.
Four months after Trump was supposedly clear in disavowing the Muslim ban, his website was still touting a policy “PREVENTING MUSLIM IMMIGRATION” and promoting “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” The page finally was deleted that May, on the same day a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, during the travel-ban argument, asked about the web page.
Six months after that, in November 2017, Trump retweeted three white-supremacist propaganda videos purporting to show Muslims beating children and smashing Christian iconography. White House spokesman Raj Shah defended Trump’s circulation of the videos by explicitly linking them to Trump’s travel ban. Shah said that “the president has addressed these issues with the travel order.”
And on Monday of this week, after Francisco assured the high court that Trump had changed his ways, Trump announced that he had no regrets for proposing to ban Muslims from entering the country. “There’s nothing to apologize for,” he said at a news conference. “We have to have strong immigration laws to protect our country.” That’s consistent with his previous complaints about the Justice Department “stupidly” watering down his initial travel ban to be “politically correct.”
The legal test in such cases is whether a “reasonable observer” would think the policy is grounded in bias. How could a reasonable observer conclude otherwise?
Francisco is not the only one to discover recently that facts are stubborn things. There’s also the awkward case of Dan Stein, longtime president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has played a key role in developing and defending Trump’s immigration crackdown.
Two weeks ago, when I wrote about Trump describing immigrants “breeding” in sanctuary cities and noted that Trump regularly uses the language of white supremacists, I included an old, oft-repeated quote from Stein saying immigrants use “competitive breeding” to dilute the white majority.
Stein fired off a letter to the editor: “I have never, ever made any such statement. In fact, there is no entire quote available from me that contains that sentiment. Don’t believe me? Find it.”
I found it. Actually, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which brands FAIR a hate group, found it. “It’s almost like they’re getting into competitive breeding,” Stein told the Albany Times Union in 1991. “You have to take into account the various fertility rates in designing limits on immigration.”
Confronted by The Washington Post’s letters editor, Jamie Riley, Stein acknowledged he had known about the “entire” quote all along. He then argued that the reporter “got it wrong” all those years ago -- even though Stein has since voiced similar thoughts.
Stein has said liberals used immigration “to retaliate against Anglo-Saxon dominance.” In an interview with Tucker Carlson in the Wall Street Journal in 1997, he said many immigrants “hate America,” and he defended the notion that intelligent people should reproduce more: “Should we be subsidizing people with low IQs to have as many children as possible?”
In that same interview, he said: “Certainly we would encourage people in other countries to have small families. Otherwise they’ll all be coming here, because there’s no room at the Vatican.’’
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, said in 1993 that “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.”
This group now has an outsized influence on Trump immigration policy. As Vice reported last year, FAIR’s former executive director became ombudsman of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and various other officials, including Jeff Sessions and Kellyanne Conway, have ties to the group.
Stein would like us to think the immigration proposals he and his administration allies promote are based on social science, not prejudice. Francisco would like us to think the president has disowned his Muslim-baiting past. A reasonable observer would be skeptical.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.