Secretary of State Rex Tillerson argued with senior White House aide Stephen Miller over immigration issues last week in a second recent clash with the White House.
Miller pushed Tillerson and the State Department to be tougher on immigration and make changes to the programs they control, according to four people familiar with the conversation in the West Wing. John Kelly, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, was also present.
Two of these people described the conversation as tense, though there wasn’t the “yelling” that Tillerson reserved for Johnny DeStefano, the head of presidential personnel, in a different argument at the White House the same day, according to one of these people.
Tillerson made it “quite clear” to Miller that he wanted autonomy over his department, one of these people said.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the record. A State Department spokesman declined to comment. Miller didn’t return repeated requests for comment.
[moved up]Miller has been holding meetings to address how to further curb the entry of refugees into the United States, per two administration officials, and has closely worked with senators on legislative proposals to sharply cut other forms of legal immigration.
The Supreme Court on Monday allowed parts of Trump’s controversial travel and refugee ban, an early policy centerpiece championed by Miller, to go into effect, reversing earlier blocks by lower court judges. The ruling allows the administration to block refugees without claims of “bona fide” relationships in the U.S. as well as some travelers from six Muslim-majority nations. The court is expected to hear challenges to the ban in the fall.
This week, CNN reported that the White House has proposed moving the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to the Department of Homeland Security, along with its bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
Those are among the State Department’s biggest functions and are among the government’s largest immigration arms. They control refugee vetting and releasing passports, among other issues.
Tillerson has grown increasingly frustrated at the White House and chafed at taking direction from younger Trump aides and not being able to implement State Department policies and offices like he would like, people familiar with his thinking say.
Tillerson has grown especially agitated that less experienced figures like Miller – who previously worked on the Hill for attorney general and former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions – have been giving him commands. The former ExxonMobil CEO was promised autonomy by Trump and is fond of reminding others of that.
Miller is one of the president’s most hard-line aides and his chief speechwriter during the presidential campaign. He early on worked in the “war room” established by chief White House strategist Steve Bannon but has also grown close to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, these people said.