Donald Trump's top allies and strategists sought Sunday to further distance the presidential hopeful from his call last year for a "deportation force" to expel the nation's estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. But they left a key question unanswered: what Trump would do with the undocumented immigrants who have not committed other crimes in the United States.
The question has taken on increased relevance in recent days, as Trump has appeared to soften the hard-line position he adopted during the Republican primary campaign as he looks to boost his appeal among moderate voters in the general election. Speaking on the Sunday morning news shows, Trump's supporters didn't address the matter definitively, signaling that their candidate would clarify his position soon.
The Trump allies also fielded questions about his new campaign chief executive, Stephen Bannon, who has come under scrutiny over his voter registration status and revelations that his ex-wife had accused him of anti-Semitic views and that he was charged with domestic violence, but not convicted. In separate interviews, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway seemed to keep some distance between themselves and Bannon.
On immigration, Conway said on "Fox News Sunday" that Trump has not recently advocated a mass deportation force. "The deportation force, I would like to address that. He hasn't mentioned that since last November," she said.
Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the idea of a deportation force was a "mechanism, not a policy," and that Trump has remained "completely consistent" on immigration.
Neither would definitively say what Trump would do with immigrants who have not committed any crimes since entering the country illegally.
"And what he's said now is that he will look at that. But he wants to look — the softening is more approach than policy," Conway said when asked about whether he will deport all immigrants in the country illegally.
Pence said: "I know the media wants to focus on that one issue. Donald Trump will articulate a policy about how we deal with that population."
In the past week, Trump has seemed open to not deporting immigrants in the country illegally who don't have criminal records. But like his supporters on Sunday, he has not made his position on that issue explicit.
What Trump has made clear in recent days is that he would deport immigrants in the country illegally who have committed certain crimes — those he has called "bad dudes." He has also said that he would not create a path to legal status or citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally and that they would have to leave the country and return in a lawful way to achieve legal status.
On NBC television's "Meet the Press," Priebus was asked what Trump's position is on undocumented immigrants.
"Well, you're going to find out from Donald Trump very shortly. He's going to be giving prepared remarks on this issue, I think, very soon. I don't want to give a date," said Priebus, echoing Trump's vow last week to soon lay out a more exact plan.
Pence gave a less-than-definitive response to a question on that matter.
"Well, I think 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," he said. "I think the American people ought to ask it."
Spokesmen for Trump did not respond to a request for comment on his current view on birthright citizenship.
Priebus said that, on the whole, Trump would lay out a plan that would be tougher than Jeb Bush's and the "Gang of Eight" comprehensive proposal that passed the Senate in 2013 but died in the House.
Pressed on whether Trump will call for an end to birthright citizenship, the RNC chairman said, "You're going to have to ask him." As for himself, Priebus said he is "comfortable" with birthright citizenship continuing to be the law.
Asked about Bannon and Conway, Priebus responded, "I go with the flow based on what the campaign wants to do. I think Kellyanne's doing a phenomenal job. I don't know Steve Bannon, to tell you the truth, very well. I'm going to get to know him."
Pressed on what has been reported and alleged about Bannon's background, Priebus responded, "I don't know how much of it is true or not."
Queried about Bannon on Fox, Conway said Trump "chose me to manage his campaign, and I report directly to him."
A spokeswoman for Bannon denied last week that he made the anti-Semitic remarks that his ex-wife accused him of in a court statement.