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Trump Stand-Ins Struggle to Speak for and Defend Nominee


"Well, what you heard him describe there, in his usual plainspoken, American way, was a mechanism, not a policy."

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump isn't making it easy for top supporters and advisers, from his running mate on down, to defend him or explain some campaign positions.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at Joni's Roast and Ride during a fundraiser at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Across the Sunday news shows, a parade of Trump stand-ins, led by vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, couldn't say whether Trump was sticking with or changing a central promise to boot the roughly 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally, with the help of a "deportation force."

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, followed by his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, emerges from his plane as he arrives to tour the flood damaged city of Baton Rouge, La., Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

And they didn't bother defending his response Saturday to the killing of a mother as she walked her baby on a Chicago street.

Pence and other Trump surrogates insisted the GOP presidential nominee has been "absolutely consistent" on his immigration policy and in coming weeks will outline more details that line up with his principles of tightening U.S. laws in a "humane" way.

Asked whether the "deportation force" proposal Trump laid out in November is still in place, Pence replied: "Well, what you heard him describe there, in his usual plainspoken, American way, was a mechanism, not a policy."

The Indiana governor said the main tenets of Trump's immigration plan will include building a wall along the southern U.S. border and making Mexico pay for it, no path to legalization or citizenship for people here illegally and stronger border enforcement. Pence also did not answer whether the campaign believes, as Trump has said, that children born to people who are in the U.S. illegally are not U.S. citizens.

"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," Pence said.

Native-born children of immigrants, even those living illegally in the U.S., have been automatically considered American citizens since the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868.

Trump has focused lately on deporting people who are in the U.S. illegally and who have committed crimes. But who Trump considers a criminal remained unclear Sunday.

"Those are the things that Donald Trump is going to answer. And this is not a simple question," said Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman who's had a difficult relationship with Trump.

Pressed on the question, Priebus replied: "I just don't speak for Donald Trump."

Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said the candidate has said that people who want to be in the U.S. legally must apply through legal means.

"We all learned in kindergarten to stand in line and wait our turn, and he is not talking about a deportation force," she said. "But he is talking about being fair and humane, but also being fair to the American workers competing for jobs."

Other Trump stand-ins, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, spoke similarly, a striking indication that even they don't know the answer to such a critical question just as Trump has promised to streamline the campaign for the grueling final stretch.

Recent polls indicate Clinton is ahead in some of the most competitive and pivotal states. The first presidential debate is set for Sept. 26.

Trump in recent days has suggested he might be "softening" on the deportation force and that he might be open to allowing at least some immigrants in the country illegally to stay, as long as they pay taxes.

But by Thursday, he was ruling out any kind of legal status — "unless they leave the country and come back," he told CNN.

His surrogates on Sunday refused to comment on Trump's reaction to the fatal shooting of NBA star Dwyane Wade's cousin Friday, as she pushed her baby in a stroller in Chicago.

Trump's first tweet about the shooting ended this way: "Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!"

A few hours later, he followed up with a tweet offering condolences to Wade and his family. "They are in my thoughts and prayers."

Asked whether the initial tweet was presidential or appropriate, GOP officials and campaign advisers instead talked about reducing crime or said they were pleased Trump followed up with a tweet of condolence and empathy.

Christie said the media "focus on process ... instead of the message." He said the killing of someone pushing a stroller "is unacceptable in an American city" and that "the level of violence in Chicago is unacceptable."

Pence appeared on CNN's "State of the Union," Priebus was on NBC's "Meet the Press," Christie was interviewed on ABC's "This Week" and Conway was on Fox and CBS' "Face the Nation."

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