President Donald Trump once affectionately called them “my two Steves,” a reference not only to their ideological kinship but to their central role in his administration.
But while Steve Bannon is on the ropes in Trump’s fractious White House, Stephen Miller has managed to endear himself to the man emerging as the president’s most indispensable adviser: son-in-law Jared Kushner.
As the relationship between Kushner and Bannon has deteriorated, Miller has made sure his colleagues know he’s not on Bannon’s team. In interviews, seven White House officials described the emerging dynamics.
The 31-year old speechwriter is now working closely with Kushner’s Office of American Innovation,as well as on family leave, childcare and women’s issues with Kushner’s wife Ivanka Trump, according to several people involved.
Miller, who wrote Trump’s fiery “American carnage” inaugural address, continues to work on the president’s speeches but takes direction from others on their tone. He’s also begun working on energy and regulatory issues, while focusing less on immigration, the issue about which he’s long been most passionate.
The shifting and seemingly divergent fortunes of the president’s most ideologically committed advisers, both nationalist firebrands who forged their partnership working together to scuttle the 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill, illustrates the changing imperatives for those closest to Trump as he learns how to govern.
In conversations with colleagues, Miller has taken pains to distance himself from Bannon, despite their ideological kinship and long collaboration issues like immigration. Miller’s associates and colleagues inside and outside the White House say he’s griped recently that Bannon tried to take too much credit for Trump’s successes, as well as objected to Bannon’s combative style.
“He made it clear he isn’t a Bannon guy,” said one White House adviser.
One senior White House official, however, disputed the idea that there’s any separation between Bannon and Miller, pointing to projects they’ve continued to work on together—including the impending announcement of a “Buy America” manufacturing plan, expected to come next week. “All the work we’ve done this week sure looks like a team,” the official said.
But the president has noticeably reversed himself on several of his core nationalist-populist campaign themes, starting with his decision last week to approve airstrikes on Syrian government targets. The decision came after Trump removed Bannon from his seat on the Nationl Security Council. This week, Trump declined to label China a currency manipulator, though he had vowed to do so on the campaign trail — and even offered the country concessions on trade in exchange for cooperation in curtailing North Korea’s increasingly aggressive posture.
Trump has publicly distanced himself from Bannon in recent days, describing him Wednesday in a Wall Street Journal interview as “a guy who works for me.” White House officials heaped praise on Miller, though they declined to speak on the record. “Stephen Miller is as brilliant as he is kind,” said one White House official in response to questions. “He has an unbelievable depth of knowledge on a wide range of issues and is a tremendous asset to the President and the Administration.”
Miller, who worked for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions on Capitol Hill before joining up with Trump, hasn’t changed his position on immigration and stands firmly behind the travel ban, White House officials said. He does not usually agree with Gary Cohn or the more liberal members of the White House – and makes his views known, according to people who have been in meetings with him.
Though he was a little-known aide prior to Trump’s victory, the fast-talking hard-liner with an affinity for skinny ties became something of a household name in February, when he made a series of television appearances defending the hasty rollout of the president’s first travel ban, which Miller directed.
At the time, Miller also defended the president’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the November election. “It is a fact and you will not deny it that there are massive numbers of non-citizens in this country who are registered to vote,” Miller said, amid other combative and seemingly false statements. Sen. John McCain mocked him afterward as the "31-year-old."
“That is the worst performance of anybody — that made Susan Rice [on] the Sunday after Benghazi look smooth. I mean, that was horrendous and an embarrassment,” said MSNBC host Joe Scarborough at the time.
Trump, the one voice that matters in the White House, had a different opinion, praising Miller on Twitter for his fierce defense.
If Miller has been a combative presence outside the White House, he has struck a more conciliatory tone on the inside, largely avoiding the infighting that has consumed the White House over the past several weeks, officials said—and his divergence with Bannon is more about style than substance. Though he has championed his views in meetings, he has generally reacted calmly if he doesn’t get his way, “not burning it all down,” in the words of one White House official.
He also retains deep ties with a number of campaign aides and officials from his time on the campaign trail, when he accompanied Trump for months and introduced him at rallies. And as one White House official said, Miller “gets Trump’s voice and knows how to talk to him.”
More than anything, White House officials say, he has undeniable loyalty to the president. He will never contradict Trump, no matter what the president says. He will reinforce the president’s beliefs with news articles that support them. And unlike Bannon, a wealthy man in his own right, the president doesn’t see Miller as a peer or someone trying to take the spotlight, unless he’s been allowed to take it.
“I am prepared to go on any show, anywhere, anytime and repeat it and say the president of the United States is correct one hundred percent,” he said in February.