There’s almost no end to the list of issues that the media want firmer, more concrete answers on from President-elect Donald Trump and his cadre of advisers, owing to the vague, non-specific policy ideas laid out throughout his victorious presidential campaign.
On Sunday morning, CNN’s Jake Tapper got his chance to extract some information, interviewing House Speaker Paul Ryan, and asking about one of the campaign’s central issues, one that would have an enormous, immediate human impact on millions of people living in America—immigration, and Trump’s pledge to begin mass deportations on day 1 of his administration.
Though Ryan told Tapper, "We are not planning on erecting a deportation force," Trump muddied the issue in a 60 Minutes interview that will air Sunday night when he again promised to kick out undocumented immigrants with criminal records, believed to be 2-3 million people currently living in the U.S.
During his campaign, Trump promised his supporters he’d deport all “criminal illegal immigrants” within his first hour in office. This was considered a moderating shift from his initial campaign promise, which was to begin rounding up and kicking out every single undocumented immigrant in the country—some 11 million or more in total—as soon as he took power.
On Sunday morning, Tapper framed the question to Ryan by highlighting the stark contrast between Ryan’s own rhetoric on immigration and Trump’s, first playing a clip from an April public appearance in which Ryan opposed “mass deportation.” Here’s what he said at the time:
“I’m a person who believes that for the undocumented, we have to come up with a solution that doesn’t involve mass deportation. That involves getting people the ability to get right with law, to come and earn a legal status, while we fix the rest of legal immigration.”
Tapper then queued up a clip of Trump speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe in November 2015, calling for that “deportation force.”
“We’re going to have a deportation force, and you’re going to do it humanely… they’re going back where they came, if they came from a certain country they’re going to be brought back to that country, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
When Tapper subsequently asked Ryan whether there would be mass deportations or not and pointed out that there are “millions of people who’re pretty worried about this,” Ryan’s answer was essentially to side-step the question, insisting that it wasn't "our focus."
I think we should put people's minds at ease. That is not what our focus is. That is not what we're focused on. We're focused on securing the border. We think that's, first and foremost, before we get into any other immigration issue, we've got to know who's coming and going in the country. We've got to secure the border. So we believe an enforcement bill, a border security enforcement bill, is really the first priority, and that's what we're focused on.
When Tapper followed up, asking Ryan "what about year 2, year 3, year 4," the Speaker reiterated that deportations weren't a "focus," before giving a slightly more direct denial.
Ryan’s response was quite evasive, both in tone and substance. Considering the sheer number of times that Trump has called for mass deportations—both back when he wanted everyone removed by a “deportation force” and after he shifted specifically to undocumented immigrants with criminal records—Ryan’s insistence that “securing the border is our top priority” does not sound like a complete story.
Especially since it was jarringly contradicted and undercut by the president-elect himself. In that 60 Minutes interview, Trump makes it very clear that he's got deportation on his mind.
In other words, the rhetoric of Ryan and Trump is already fundamentally at-odds on one of the seismic, most consequential policy proposals of Trump's political career. It hasn't even been a week yet. This may end up being a more complicated working relationship than they first imagined.