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While White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is under scrutiny for several issues, one public statement might not have deserved the firestorm it received from the media. CNN reported Tuesday:

“There are 690,000 official DACA registrants and the President sent over what amounts to be two and a half times that number, to 1.8 million,” he said on Capitol Hill after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to audio posted by The Washington Post.

“The difference between 690 and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up,” Kelly added.

The media response to this statement was quick and ugly, but it failed to take into account both the actual words said, and Kelly himself. While suggesting that people who could be eligible for DACA protection were “too lazy” to do it certainly can (and should) be considered objectionable, Kelly did not state that he believed they were. In point of fact, Kelly was stating the public opinions of many – from the left and from the right – which is clear if one bothers to pay attention to the actual words he said. But, that didn’t stop the media from accusing Kelly of being everything from insensitive to (possibly) racist:

It is important to keep in mind that previous to becoming Chief of Staff, Kelly spent his time in the Pentagon and in the Department of Homeland Security. In both of these environments, precision in speech is a necessity because imprecision can have a body count. That past experience also undoubtedly colors his attitude toward lawmakers who are willing to hold the military hostage while they argue over the status of people who aren’t U.S. citizens.

Because of his background, Kelly is as close as anyone can get to “apolitical” in the West Wing, regardless how much the media might wish it otherwise. In this case, it seems that reporting with bias against the White House won the day, and the media missed the fact that Kelly was probably intending his statement to be taken as a condescending hit against the Hill, not a commentary on people who are eligible for DACA protections.

Liz Harrison

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