Video: Jeff Sessions hedges when asked if Trump still backs mass deportation

When I saw BuzzFeed’s report last night of Trump’s meeting with his Hispanic advisory council, I had the same reaction Patterico did. They’re overhyping what Trump said. There’s nothing in the piece that suggests he committed to legalization. What he said, in the words of one attendee, was that illegals would be handled in a “humane and efficient manner,” which might just as easily describe a deportation plan as a legalization plan. He’s not letting them stay, he’s merely promising that the buses they’ll be placed on to take them back to Mexico will be yuge, classy, and luxurious. Humane and efficient!

But then I read this Univision story about the same meeting. Illegals are gonna win so much under Trump, they’ll be bored with all the winning:

“I really liked that Trump acknowledged that there is a big problem with the 11 million [undocumented] people who are here, and that deporting them is neither possible nor humane,” said Jacob Monty, a Texas immigration lawyer who attended the meeting…

Trump told the group of conservative Hispanic leaders he would announce a plan to grant legal status “that wouldn’t be citizenship but would allow them to be here without fear of deportation.” said Monty…

Other people present at the meeting backed that idea, explaining that the candidate said he did not like the idea of forcing undocumented immigrants to go back to their countries to regularize their immigration status, and that it would make sense to allow them to do so without leaving the United States

Official details of the Trump plan remain unknown. But those who were present at the meeting said it would include some form of legalizing the status of some undocumented immigrants.

That’s … pretty clear, and pretty ironic insofar as it was none other than Jeb Bush who backed a path to legalization without citizenship in the primaries. When new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway was asked this morning about all of this, whether Trump could really be preparing to renege on his signature policy of mass deportation, she said it’s yet “to be determined.” As chance would have it, hardline border hawk and Trump surrogate Jeff Sessions was also scheduled for the Sunday shows today, just in time to field questions on this topic. Watch below as John Dickerson tries to get him to say that Trump would never abandon deportation — and fails. Sessions ends up giving him a Rubio-esque answer about securing the border first; once that’s done, he says, then “we’ll have to think about what’s the right thing to do” about illegals. W-w-w-what? A confused Dickerson follows up by asking Sessions directly whether he’s certain that Trump still intends to deport 11 million illegals, an easy opportunity for Sessions to say “of course!” Sessions’s answer: Well, I’m certain that he didn’t make any firm commitments to the contrary to his Hispanic advisory council, although he’s thinking it through. That’s the Trump position on mass deportation now — he hasn’t made any promises to abandon it yet? If Rubio or Cruz were the nominee and their spokesman farted out an answer like that on amnesty, grassroots righties would be ready to burn the party down.

Trump’s team put out a statement last night after the BuzzFeed and Univision stories came out reiterating that he’ll “enforce our immigration laws” and “be fair and humane while putting American workers first.” Notably, like Sessions and Conway, the statement didn’t explicitly rule out legalization. An RNC spokesman was firmer in her comments to Breitbart, saying, “Some folks [at the meeting] talked about legalization, not citizenship, for the undocumented, Mr. Trump did not say he was in favor of legalization. Some folks may have felt that he was open to it–and he gave zero indication of that.” Breitbart also claims to have four separate campaign sources, some of whom were in the room, who told them that Trump has no plans to change his immigration policies. (Per Univision, Breitbart chairman and new Trump hire Steve Bannon was among the attendees.) Sessions gave a second interview this morning to Fox News (the clip is embedded below) in which he confirmed that Trump “has not changed his view” on immigration, but again he wouldn’t say definitively what should happen to illegals once the border is secure. If mass deportation is still the plan, why not just admit that? Trump said in the past that illegals have to be made to leave as a matter of basic national sovereignty. Now suddenly no less than Jeff Sessions is ready to postpone resolution of this issue until border enforcement has improved. It couldn’t be that, as a member of the Senate who understands Democrats will have a majority next year, he realizes President Trump won’t be getting any money for a wall until he gives Chuck Schumer what he wants on legalization, could it?

I tweeted last night after the Univision story came out that it had to be wrong because Trump simply can’t get away with a reversal on this issue. His base will cut him slack on literally anything else, but mass deportation and “the wall” are the nuclear core of Trumpmania. Together they’re the foundation of his persona as a candidate who’s not only unafraid to be “politically incorrect” on a subject before which establishment Republicans cower but who’s vowed to make possible something that GOP leaders claim is impossible. We can’t build a wall and we can’t deport 11 million people, they say. Oh yeah, counters Trump? Just watch me. Mass deportation is the pillar supporting Trump’s “Green Lantern” image. A candidate’s base will sometimes indulge him a minor heresy in the interest of winning — see, e.g., liberals letting Obama pretend he opposed gay marriage in 2008 — but Trump backing off on deportation would be a major heresy, tantamount to Obama deciding that the Iraq war was worth fighting after all. If Trump flips on this, the pillar will crumble and parts of his base will finally crumble with it, or so I assume. About 50 different #NeverTrumpers replied to me on Twitter that I’ve obviously learned nothing about the Trump cult and that his fans will find a way to rationalize even this, despite the fact that it’s a supreme betrayal of what drew them to him in the first place. How many of Jim Jones’s followers ran into the jungle once he decided it was Kool-Aid time, one Twitter pal asked me. Not many, right? Besides, Trump has been pushing a moronic “touchback amnesty” for months; it’d be no great demand of his base at this point to ask them to cut him a break on the “touchback” part, or so the theory goes. (Just think of conventional amnesty as an “internal touchback,” I guess.) I think that’s wrong, that formally abandoning deportation would be to ask too much of Trump nation, but we’ll see. We’re about to find out, I suppose, whether even Trumpers have a line that the leader can’t cross.

Assuming, that is, that the BuzzFeed and Univision reports are accurate. Maybe Breitbart’s sources are correct and the legalization buzz is little more than a PR ploy aimed at Latino voters to make them think Trump is softer on amnesty than he really is. BuzzFeed’s sources can murmur excitedly about legalization, Breitbart’s sources can murmur excitedly about deportation, and Trump himself can remain studiously ambiguous so that each audience can believe what it prefers to believe. This is the eternal trouble in making Trump pay politically for a flip-flop: You’re never quite sure which audience is the one that’s really being conned. Is it border hawks or is it the people who think he’s softening on immigration? Is it pro-choicers, per Trump wanting criminal penalties for women who abort after the practice is banned, or is it pro-lifers, per Trump wanting to leave abortion laws alone? To paraphrase Nancy Pelosi, you’ll have to elect the candidate to find out what his true intentions are. And just to make all of this even more bizarre, he’s flirting with legalizing illegals during the very week that he brought Steve Bannon on to oversee his campaign, which is like hiring the head of the NRA the same week you make a pivot towards gun control. It can’t possibly be that Bannon, who allegedly turned against Ted Cruz two years ago for making a minor humanitarian gesture at the border, would sit idly by while Trump embraces amnesty, can it? Nor is it obvious what Trump would gain by doing so. If you’re pro-amnesty, a cynical eleventh-hour Trump conversion aimed at pandering to swing voters isn’t going to impress you, but if you’re anti-amnesty, it may well alienate you. He probably loses votes on balance if he does this. Which is why he — probably — won’t.

Exit question: How would legalization square with Trump ranting about jobs being lost to foreign labor? It’s insane.

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