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First Read: Why Donald Trump's Immigration Position Needs Clarity

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump boards his plane following a campaign rally in Tampa
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump boards his plane following a campaign rally in Tampa, Florida, Aug. 24.CARLO ALLEGRI / Reuters

Trump Going After Clinton

Sept. 1, 201602:32

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Why Trump’s immigration position needs clarity

In Phoenix Wednesday night, Donald Trump is set to give a big speech about his plans on immigration. And there’s a big reason why he’s giving it: Today, we know less about his plans on immigration -- his signature issue -- than we did a week ago. Consider the contradictions and conflicting statements over the past week.

“There could certainly be a softening”

"There could certainly be a softening because we're not looking to hurt people," Trump said about his position on what to do with longtime undocumented immigrants in the U.S. (Fox, Aug. 24)

“I don’t think it’s a softening”

Well, I don't think it's a softening. I think it's… I've had people say it's a hardening, actually. (CNN, Aug. 25)

A possible legal path for undocumented immigrants by making them pay back taxes?

"No citizenship," Trump told Fox News' Sean Hannity. "Let me go a step further — they'll pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there's no amnesty, as such, there's no amnesty, but we work with them." More from Trump: "When I look at the rooms and I have this all over, now everybody agrees we get the bad ones out," Trump said. "But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject...they've said, Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person that has been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and the family out, it's so tough, Mr. Trump." (Fox, Aug. 24)

There’s no legal path

But there's no legalization. There's no amnesty. And if somebody wants to go the legalization route, what they'll do is they'll go, leave the country, hopefully come back in. And then we can talk. (CNN, Aug. 25)

“You are going to have a deportation force”

“You are going to have a deportation force, and you are going to do it humanely,” Trump said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when asked how he would round up the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. (MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Nov. 11, 2015)

Campaign manager: He hasn’t mentioned deportation force since last November

“Now, the deportation force, I would like to address that. He hasn't mentioned that since last November,” campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said. (Fox, Aug. 25)

End birthright citizenship

“This remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration. By a 2:1 margin, voters say it’s the wrong policy, including Harry Reid who said “no sane country” would give automatic citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants.” (Trump’s immigration plan on his website)

Pence: Birthright citizenship is a subject for the future

“Well, I think the whole question of anchor babies, as it's known, the whole question of citizenship, of natural-born Americans is a subject for the future. I think the American people ought to ask it. We look at our whole immigration system and see whether that works and makes sense. But under the laws today in the United States of America -- I think what Donald Trump was referring to is, this is part of the issue that we need to deal with in this country,” said vice-presidential running mate Mike Pence (CNN, Aug. 28)

RNC Chair: I’m comfortable with birthright citizenship

“I'm comfortable with [birthright citizenship]. I'm comfortable with it. I'm comfortable with it. I'm comfortable with the Supreme Court rulings on the issue.” (NBC’s Meet the Press, Aug. 28)

Our four questions Trump needs to answer with his immigration speech

Given these contradictions and conflicting statements, here are what we consider the four questions Trump needs to answer tonight:

  1. What, precisely, does Trump propose doing with the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants living in the United States, especially those who are law abiding and have lived in the country for years and years?
  2. If they must go, how do you accomplish it?
  3. If they must go, how do you pay for it?
  4. Is Trump 100% certain on ending birthright citizenship?

Campaign manager: “You will not see a reversal”

On “Today” this morning, Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway said that Trump will not reverse himself on immigration. “You will not see a reversal. If you look at his speech at the convention, which I think is when you’re accepting the Republican nomination, you’re laying out your vision, as it would be president. Look at that speech, he does not talk about a deportation force there, but he makes it very clear that he hasn’t changed his position at all in terms of enforcing law,” she said.

Trump heads to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Pena Nieto before tonight’s speech

Here’s the breaking news from last night: “Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto ahead of a major speech on immigration on Wednesday,” per NBC News. “The Washington Post first reported that Peña Nieto had extended invitations to both Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, to travel to Mexico City for a meeting. Trump and the Mexican leader later confirmed the meeting on Twitter:

“Trump spoke at a rally Tuesday night in Everett, Washington. He didn't mention Mexico, but he has previously signaled he'd be willing to meet with Peña Nieto, who has strongly criticized Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric and particularly his promise to make Mexico pay for a wall on the country's border with the U.S.”

Clinton camp responds to the Pena Nieto meeting: Trump has insulted Mexico throughout this campaign

Last night, Clinton Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri released this statement responding to Trump’s meeting with Pena Nieto: "From the first days of his campaign, Donald Trump has painted Mexicans as 'rapists’ and criminals and has promised to deport 16 million people, including children and U.S. citizens. He has said we should force Mexico to pay for his giant border wall. He has said we should ban remittances to families in Mexico if Mexico doesn't pay up. What ultimately matters is what Donald Trump says to voters in Arizona, not Mexico, and whether he remains committed to the splitting up of families and deportation of millions."

Clinton to talk about “American exceptionalism” in speech to American Legion

Meanwhile, Clinton delivers her own speech today -- before the American Legion convention in Cincinnati, OH at 12:15 pm ET. Previewing Clinton’s speech, a Clinton campaign official says that she “will make the case for American exceptionalism and call for maintaining America's military and diplomatic leadership in the world. She will argue for maintaining America's strong commitment to the alliances that keep us safe, the values that make us great, and the men and women in uniform who represent the best of our country.”

McCain, Rubio, Wasserman Schultz all win their primaries

“Three high-profile incumbents trying to hold on to their jobs in Tuesday's primaries have done so despite facing tough opposition,” one of us wrote last night. “Florida's GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain beat back primary challengers, according to the Associated Press.” The one incumbent who DID lose? Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) who was battling a federal indictment and redistricting changes. Last night’s results (asterisk means incumbent):

Arizona Republican Senate primary

  • McCain*- 51.7%
  • Ward - 39.1%
  • Meluskey - 5.5%
  • Van Steenwyk – 3.6%

Florida Democratic Senate primary

  • Murphy – 58.9%
  • Grayson – 17.7%
  • Keith – 15.4%
  • De La Fuente – 5.4%
  • Luster – 2.6%

Florida Republican Senate primary

  • Rubio* – 72.0%
  • Beruff – 18.5%
  • Young – 6.4%
  • Rivera – 3.2%

Florida 5th district Democratic primary

  • Lawson – 47.6%
  • Brown* – 39.0%
  • Holloway – 13.4%

Florida 23rd district Democratic primary

  • Wasserman Schultz* – 56.8%
  • Canova – 43.2%

Florida 26th district Democratic primary

  • Garcia – 51.3%
  • Taddeo – 48.7%

On the trail

Donald Trump delivers his immigration speech in Phoenix, AZ at 9:00 pm ET… Hillary Clinton addresses the American Legion convention in Cincinnati, OH at 12:15 pm ET… Mike Pence is in Florida… And Tim Kaine remains in Pennsylvania.

Countdown to Election Day: 69 days