After suggesting that the Statue of Liberty stood for immigrants “who will not become a public charge” and then linking the monument to European immigrants, acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli turned to Fox News @ Night where host Shannon Bream gave a softball interview allowing him to attack the media for their “totally untrue” coverage of him.
Cuccinelli is in the midst of a PR blitz to tout a new “public charge” rule targeting legal immigrants that the Trump administration is currently drafting. The rule would make it significantly harder for these immigrants to obtain a green card if they use public benefits like Medicaid, housing assistance, or food stamps. Analysts told The Washington Post that the rule could “dramatically” reduce family-based legal immigration, especially from Latin America and Africa.
On the morning of August 13, Cuccinelli discussed the impending rule on NPR, claiming that the Emma Lazarus poem The New Colossus etched on the Statue of Liberty can be interpreted as, “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Cuccinelli then ran to Fox News, where he complained to a sympathetic audience that the media outlets were unfairly treating him over his comments on CNN. He lamented, “If I open my mouth, you know, they will scream something awful came out no matter what.” He insisted that media reports are “completely and totally untrue,” despite video footage showing exactly what he said.
When Bream gently brought up his comments implying that the poem referred to people coming from Europe, Cuccinelli cut her off to say, “No, now you’re doing it. … Shannon, don’t do what they do” -- even though Bream was giving him every opportunity to walk back his remarks. Cuccinelli claimed, “The Statue of Liberty was a present from France to celebrate America turning 100 years old. ... This whole poem had nothing to do with the Statue of Liberty that France gave us.” In fact, the Statue of Liberty was originally intended to celebrate the emancipation of slaves following the Civil War.
At the end of the interview in which Bream never returned to Cuccinelli's remarks, the Fox anchor thanked him for coming on the show to “separate fact from fiction.”
Cuccinelli’s comments come as the Trump administration and right-wing outlets such as Fox News are facing broad accusations of mainstreaming white supremacy. The white supremacist rhetoric of Trump and right-wing media figures appears to have been echoed by the El Paso, TX, shooter who killed 22 people last week, claiming it was in “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Right-wing figures have constantly defended the Trump administration’s racism and nativism. As a CNN pundit before he joined the administration, Cuccinelli himself called for states to invoke “war powers” to turn back an immigration “invasion.”