Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will be making a speech on immigration in Arizona on Wednesday, after a week of speculation that he might be softening his hardline promise to deport 11 million people living in the United States illegally.
The speech, posted in a tweet on Sunday night, was initially set for last week in Colorado, but was pushed back as Mr Trump and his team wrestled over the details of what he would propose.
There has been debate within his campaign about immigrants who have not committed crimes beyond their immigration offences.
The billionaire candidate’s shifting stance has not made it easy for top supporters and advisers, from his running mate down, to defend him or explain some campaign positions.
Across the Sunday news shows, a parade of Mr Trump stand-ins, led by vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, could not say whether Mr Trump was sticking with or changing a central promise to use a “deportation force” to expel immigrants in the US illegally.
And they did not bother defending his initial response on Saturday to the killing of a mother as she walked her baby on a Chicago street.
Questioned on whether leaving key details on immigration policy unclear so late in the election was a problem, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus demurred, saying: “I just don’t speak for Donald Trump.”
It was a striking look at Mr Trump’s leadership of a team he had said would help drive him to victory in the November 8 election.
Surrogates speak for and back up their presidential nominee. But Team Trump has struggled to do so even as they stayed tightly together on the details they know: Mr Trump will issue more details on the immigration plan soon, the policy will be humane, and despite his clear wavering, he’s been “consistent” on the issue.
Any discussion of inconsistencies or potentially unpresidential tweeting, Mr Pence and others suggested, reflected media focus on the wrong issue.
Asked whether the “deportation force” proposal Mr Trump laid out in November is still in place, Mr Pence replied: “Well, what you heard him describe there, in his usual plain-spoken, American way, was a mechanism, not a policy.”
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said: “the softening is more approach than policy”, adding that on immigration, Mr Trump “wants to find a fair and humane way”.
Indiana governor Mr Pence, Ms Conway and other surrogates said the main tenets of Mr Trump’s immigration plan would still include building a wall along the southern US border and making Mexico pay for it, no path to status adjustment or citizenship for people there illegally and stronger border enforcement.
Mr Pence also did not answer whether the campaign believes, as Mr Trump has said, that children born to people who are in the US illegally are not American citizens. That, he said, “is a subject for the future”.
Native-born children of immigrants, even those living illegally in the US, have been automatically considered American citizens since the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868.
Mr Trump has focused lately on deporting people who are in the US illegally and who have committed crimes. But who he considers a criminal remained unclear.
In recent days he 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.
Recent polls indicate Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is ahead in some of the most competitive and pivotal states. The first presidential debate is set for September. 26.
Surrogates refused to comment on Mr Trump’s reaction to the fatal shooting of NBA star Dwyane Wade’s cousin on Friday, as she pushed her baby in a stroller in Chicago.
Mr 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 Mr Wade and his family.
Asked whether the initial tweet was presidential or appropriate, Republican officials and campaign advisers instead talked about reducing crime or said they were pleased Mr Trump followed up with a tweet of condolence and empathy.
New Jersey governor Chris 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”.