Mitt Romney, a Senate candidate and former Republican nominee for president whom many now consider a symbol of the Republican Party’s more moderate past, told a crowd in Utah on Monday that he considers himself more conservative than Donald Trump on immigration.
“My view was these DACA kids shouldn’t all be allowed to stay in the country legally,” Romney said, defending himself against a question about his degree of conservatism. The DACA program, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, granted legal status to roughly 690,000 young immigrants, or Dreamers. It has since passed its March 5 deadline for extension, meaning many Dreamers are stuck in limbo waiting to find out if their legal status will find new protection in Congress.
He argued he leans more to the right than Trump on several issues. “For instance, I’m a deficit hawk,” he said, according to the Herald Extra. “That makes me more conservative than a lot of Republicans and a lot of Democrats. I’m also more of a hawk on immigration than even the president.”
He said he “accept[s]” Trump’s stance when it comes to DACA. “But for me,” he said, “I draw the line and say, those who’ve come illegally should not be given a special path to citizenship.”
He added that in order for Dreamers to justify permanent residency in the U.S., they should get a degree, serve in the military, or work in jobs that provide a certain social value, such as teaching.
Trump abruptly ended the DACA program, prompting several states and other entities to sue his administration. He has also said he wants Congress to find a solution to protect them, but they have so far failed to do so.
According to NPR, Romney supported a 2007 immigration-reform act that created a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Later, he denounced it as an “amnesty plan.”
Now that Romney has said he is more conservative than Trump on immigration, however, his Senate race announcement seems a little strange. “Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world,” he said at the time, condemning Trump’s restrictive immigration policies. “Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”
Romney was initially a vocal Never Trumper, once calling the candidate a “phony” and a “fraud” and being called a “total joke” in return. After Trump won, Romney was briefly positioned as a candidate for secretary of state, leading to the famous dinner photo. After Trump dumped him, Romney once again became critical of Trump’s language and behavior.
But Romney told the crowd Monday that his relationship with Trump was a political strength. “He respects people who speak their mind, because now and then, as you know, if he says something I think is wrong, I’ll point it out,” he said. “And if he disagrees with me, he points it out even harder.”
“There are times when the president may have said something that is either racist, or anti-woman, that is divisive,” Romney said to the crowd on Monday. “And if that happens, I’ll call him out on it.”
Trump has endorsed Romney for the senate race.