Stephen Miller has been a pivotal part of Team Trump since the campaign trail, and he's now a key player behind the scenes. The 31-year-old conservative is the president's senior policy adviser and has been a key player in pushing some of Donald Trump's most controversial policies, like the border wall and travel ban. Here's what you need to know about him.
1. He grew up surrounded by liberal politics.
Miller grew up in liberal Southern California - in Santa Monica, to be exact. Although his neighborhood, school, and even parents leaned liberal, Miller rejected those ideologies. He says his turning point came when he bought a subscription to Guns & Ammo magazine and started reading the writings of actor and longtime National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston.
Miller attended a liberal public school in Santa Monica, where he began his fight against "political correctness" and for conservative values. As a high school student, he successfully lobbied his school administrators to reinstate the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
He even caused controversy during a campaign speech for student government in high school. The Washington Post reports he was booed off stage after provoking his classmates with lines like,"Am I the only one who is sick and tired of being told to pick up my trash when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us?!" Friends insist the whole speech was a senior prank.
Around this time, he also started regularly calling in to a nationally syndicated conservative radio show. He placed 70 calls to the Larry Elder Show before he graduated high school, the Los Angeles-based host estimates.
"The way that people on the left abuse and slam people on the right - that’s probably the thing that’s most concerned Stephen," Elder said of Miller. "The lack of fairness. The left-wing dominance in academia. The left-wing dominance in the media. The left-wing dominance in Hollywood."
While in high school, Miller also wrote incendiary columns for his school newspaper on topics like race.
"I think he’s got a very sharp understanding of what words and issues will poke and provoke progressives, because he came up around it and really cut his teeth picking these fights that had low stakes but high offense," Ari Rosmarin, a civil rights lawyer who edited the student newspaper at time, told the Post.
2. He was known as an outspoken conservative at Duke University.
By his freshman year at Duke University, Miller was still a fan of guns. A college classmate of Miller's told the New York Times that he introduced himself at a freshman mixer by saying, “My name is Stephen Miller, I am from Los Angeles, and I like guns.”
During his time at Duke, Miller served as executive director of the Duke Conservative Union. He also wrote a column for the student newspaper in which he voiced controversial opinions on everything from feminism to religion. In one column, he argued that the gender pay gap had "virtually nothing to do with gender discrimination" and that pay equality would hurt businesses.
"The truth is, even in modern-day America, there is a place for gender roles," he wrote. "I simply wouldn't feel comfortable hiring a full-time male babysitter or driving down the street and seeing a group of women carrying heavy steel pillars to a construction site. I can't stomach the idea of, say, having a wife who worked as a prison guard getting abused and threatened all day long. Feminists would say this outlook makes me a chauvinist. But they'd be wrong. It's not chauvinism. It's chivalry."
Vanity Fair reports nearly 3,500 Duke alumni, including some of Miller's former classmates, have written an open letter denouncing him. “We . . . see nothing in your actions that furthers the values of intellectual honesty, tolerance, diversity, and respect that we seek to promote in the world,” the letter argues.
3. He knew a now-prominent white nationalist in college - but he now condemns him.
Miller's time with the Duke Conservative Union also served as a link to white nationalist Richard Spencer, who was a graduate student at the time and claims to have been friendly with Miller while at Duke.
Earlier this year, Spencer told the Daily Beast that he had been a "mentor" to Miller. "I spent a lot of time with him at Duke ... I hope I expanded his thinking … but I think he probably would be where he is today without me as well," he said.
For his part, Miller denied any connection to Spencer or his ideologies. "I condemn him. I condemn his views. I have no relationship with him. He was not my friend," Miller said.
Although he acknowledged that they were members of the same organization in college, Miller insists their relationship did not extend beyond that. "Our interaction was limited to the activities of the organization, of which he was a member, and thus ceased upon graduation," he explained.
Spencer agreed that Miller's views didn't align with his in college. "I think [Miller] is an American nationalist, but that doesn’t mean he is a racial nationalist … I do not think he is a white nationalist," he told the Daily Beast. "Stephen Miller would never be alt-right at the time, or probably now, too."
But Spencer told Vanity Fair in May 2017 he was surprised Miller disavowed him. “The fact is I did know him, now 10 years previously, so I could’ve talked about this in 2015, I could’ve talked about this all through 2016, but I didn’t," Spencer said. "Stephen looked a little strange, kind of doing this outright denial. What he should’ve said is ‘Oh, yeah. I knew Richard Spencer 10 years ago. Who cares?’”
4. He gained national attention for his commentary on the Duke lacrosse case.
While in college, Miller wrote several columns about the Duke lacrosse case, in which three members of the Duke lacrosse team were accused of raping a young black woman. Miller was an early, vocal defender of the lacrosse players and the charges were eventually dropped. Miller appeared on Nancy Grace to discuss the case and defend the lacrosse players.
“For many at Duke, the last year offered a horrifying tutorial in the moral bankruptcy of the left’s politically correct orthodoxy and the corruption of our culture at its hands,” Miller wrote at the time, according to Vanity Fair. “Three of our peers faced a devastating year-long persecution because they were white and their accuser black.”
"The one takeaway I have from it is that in a difficult moment, I took a stand on principle - and I was correct," Miller told the Washington Post in an article published on February 11, 2017.
5. He was an aide to Jeff Sessions.
After graduation, Miller headed to Washington, D.C., where he worked for reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and John Shadegg of Arizona before landing a job as communications director with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions in 2009.
Sessions was confirmed as attorney general Feb. 8, despite strong opposition from Democrats. His nomination was one of Trump's most controversial ones, thanks to his past comments about civil rights and race relations. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was reprimanded after she tried to read a letter by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., originally written to oppose Sessions's nomination for a federal judge position.
6. He helped fight against a bipartisan immigration overhaul.
During his time working with Sessions, Miller worked against an attempted overhaul of the immigration system, which passed in the Senate but failed in the House. Miller wrote several speeches for Sessions that railed against the bill.
"We knew we were taking on the establishment, and Steve was an incredibly hard worker and had no second thoughts about it," Sessions said.
During this time, the New York Times reports that Miller established a reputation for himself as a "bombastic" emailer, sending "dozens and dozens" of messages to both congressional staff members and reporters during his fight against the proposed 2013 immigration overhaul.
7. He worked as a speechwriter for Trump during the campaign.
By summer of 2016, Miller was working on Trump's presidential campaign as his day-to-day speechwriter. He was so good at capturing Trump's voice and views that he became an integral part of the president's inner circle and even warmed up crowds for him during campaign rallies. He notably wrote Trump's Republican National Convention acceptance speech.
8. He's behind some of Trump's most controversial executive orders.
Though Miller has only recently come to the public's attention, his impact on the Trump administration has already been great. The young conservative is reportedly behind many of the president's controversial executive orders. He was also blamed by some for the mishandling of the travel ban.
Several White House officials told the New York Times that Miller's "eagerness to keep a tight lid on key details of executive orders to prevent leaks - as well as his inexperience - has at times hampered coordination between the West Wing and agencies that would have to carry them out."
Miller discussed the Trump administration's plans for the future of the travel ban on Fox News Sunday on Feb. 12. "Right now we are considering and pursuing all options. Those options include seeking an emergency stay at the Supreme Court, continuing the appeal with the panel, having an emergency hearing en banc, or going to the trial court in the district level and trial on the merit," he said, adding that new executive actions were also a possibility.
9. Zach Braff wants to play him on SNL.
Saturday Night Live has been in top form lately, thanks in no small part to its biting satire of the Trump administration. After the popularity of Alec Baldwin's Trump impression and Melissa McCarthy's spot-on Sean Spicer, other celebrities are looking to get in on the action, including Scrubs star Zach Braff.
Braff took to Twitter to let SNL boss Lorne Michael know just how far he's willing to go to play Miller on the show.
10. His comments on Fox News are being used in a lawsuit against Trump's travel ban.
President Trump signed an executive order on March 6, issuing a revised travel ban that imposes a 90-day ban on new visas to people from six majority-Muslim countries - Iran, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya - and suspends the U.S. refugee program for all countries for 120 days. The new order was crafted to withstand legal challenges.
But days after the ban was announced, Hawaii filed a lawsuit saying the new order has the same problems as the one Trump signed in January - namely that it still discriminates against Muslims. To support its case, Hawaii cited an interview that Miller gave to Fox News after the new travel ban was signed. According to Hawaii's lawsuit:
Miller told Fox News that the new travel ban would have the same effect as the old one. He said: “Fundamentally, you're still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country, but you're going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues that were brought up by the court, and those will be addressed. But, in terms of protecting the country, those basic policies are still going to be in effect.”
On March 29, a federal judge in Hawaii extended the order that blocked Trump's travel ban.
11. He reportedly wrote Trump's big speech on Islam.
When President Trump visited Saudi Arabia, he gave a speech directly addressing the Muslim world. That speech, according to CNN, was written by Miller, with the help of a team of policy advisers.The Atlantic notes that the speech had many religious references, but avoided Trump's familiar phrase of "radical Islamic terrorism." He was also reportedly the author of Trump's speech in Israel, occurring on the same trip overseas.
But Miller has been criticized for his past statements against Islam. CNN reported back in February that when he was in college, he started a project to help educate students about "Islamofascism," and about his idea that the West was at war with radical Islam. His group attempted to run an ad in newspapers across the country, but was rejected. "You've got this insane stuff happening on our campuses, but you can't run a simple fact-based ad that talks about the threat of radical Islam," he told Fox and Friends in 2007.
12. He clashed with a reporter about the Statue of Liberty.
On August 2, Miller took the podium for a press briefing about a bill in Congress which would cut legal immigration by half and give preference to immigrants who speak English, among other qualifiers. Miller, who supports the bill, butted heads with CNN reporter Jim Acosta, and the Statue of Liberty became a point of contention.
“What the president is proposing here does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration,” Acosta said. “The Statue of Liberty says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’” But Miller took issue with that reference. “I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty and lighting the world. It’s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world," he responded. "The poem that you’re referring to, that was added later, is not actually a part of the original Statue of Liberty.”
Miller is both right and wrong about this. According to the Washington Post, Emma Lazarus's poem, "New Colossus," was not part of the original French statue that was given to the United States. But the poem was written specifically to raise money to get the statue to the U.S.
Acosta continued questioning Miller: "This whole notion of they have to learn English before they get to the United States, are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?" Miller shot back, saying, "I have to say, I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree that in your mind - this is an amazing moment."
This post was originally written on February 14, 2017 and has been updated.
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