A day after Donald Trump met with a group of Latino supporters, top aides suggested Sunday that the GOP nominee may be reconsidering his signature campaign promise to round up and deport 11 million people who are in the country illegally.
His new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, was asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” if Trump still wants a “deportation force” to remove everyone in the country illegally, as he has vowed repeatedly on the campaign trail.
“To be determined,” she said.
Trump is “wrestling” with how to remove those in the country illegally, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a close advisor to Trump on immigration matters, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Apprehending and removing the estimated 11 million people who either entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas would cost about $400 billion and could reduce U.S. gross domestic product by $1 trillion, according to a study released this year by the free-market think tank American Action Forum.
The aides’ comments appeared to be the latest sign that Trump's newly installed management team may be trying to broaden his appeal to stem his steady fall in the polls with less than three months until election day.
Trump has never explained how he intended to find, detain and deport millions of people, many of whom have built businesses and started families in the U.S., or how he would pay for it even if it passed judicial scrutiny.
He has compared his proposal to "Operation Wetback," a controversial removals program carried out in 1954 under President Eisenhower. More than 1 million people were apprehended, mostly from border areas in Texas and California, and sent back to Mexico.
Any easing of Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration — which also includes building a wall along the border with Mexico and temporarily banning Muslim immigrants — could alienate some of his most ardent supporters.
After a year of using harsh rhetoric against Latinos — from calling Mexican migrants rapists to repeatedly attacking a federal judge as unfair because his family was from Mexico — polls show he faces intense opposition among Latinos.
His campaign thus has moved in recent days to soften his edges and to try to shift attention past the turmoil caused by the dramatic shake-up of his top management team last week.
In Charlotte, N.C., Trump announced “regret” that some of his heated comments — he didn’t say which — may have caused personal pain. In Fredericksburg, Va., he said the GOP must “do better” to reach out to African American voters.
And in New York City on Saturday, Trump told his campaign’s newly named Latino advisory council that he wants to find a “humane and efficient” solution to deal with illegal immigration.
He “did not make a firm commitment” to the group on how deportations would work, Sessions said.
Trump is expected to speak about immigration policy Thursday at a campaign event in Colorado. Conway said he will be more specific on his immigration plan “as the weeks unfold.”
"What he supports is to make sure that we enforce the law, that we are respectful of those Americans who are looking for well-paying jobs and that we are fair and humane for those who live among us in this country," Conway said.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has called for providing a pathway to legal status for some of the people in the country illegally.
A bipartisan immigration reform bill that would have boosted border security while providing a pathway for citizenship passed the Senate in 2013 but died in the Republican-led House.
Trump’s campaign also announced plans Sunday intended to repair months of discord with the Republican National Committee.
Conway said the campaign would bring Sean Spicer, a senior GOP strategist, into Trump's New York City headquarters several days a week, and that the RNC would increase sharing of political data and fundraising strategies.
Despite Trump’s dire position in national polls, Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman, insisted that Trump would catch up to Clinton "as we move through September."
"Donald Trump has been disciplined and mature," he said on ABC's "This Week." "And I think he's going to get this thing back on track."
Conway, the new campaign manager, insisted that the campaign already was on track.
“We had a great week, the best week so far,” she said, citing the airing of Trump's first TV ads, his appearance in flood-ravaged Louisiana, and his attempts to reach out to black and Latino voters.
"He's able to be himself, the authentic Donald Trump," she said, and "the pivot that he's made is on substance."
Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, who appeared on the same show, disputed that Trump had made a pivot, saying that even Trump had denied that.
Mook also argued that Trump should publicly account for his financial ties to Russia and his repeated praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"There are real questions being raised about whether Donald Trump himself is just a puppet for the Kremlin in this race," Mook said.
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