Acting Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli on Tuesday night denied rewriting the iconic Emma Lazarus poem from the Statue of Liberty during an NPR interview to suggest only immigrants who can “stand on their own two feet,” insisting he writes policy, not poetry.

“I was answering a question,” Cuccinelli told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “I was answering a question. I’m not rewriting poetry.”

“‘Give me your tired and poor who can stand on their own two feet and not become a public charge,'” Burnett told him. “I played you saying it.”

“Right, I listened,” he responded. “I was answering a question. I wasn’t writing poetry. Don’t change the facts. You’re twisting this like everybody else in the left has done all day today.”

He further told Burnett he did not bring up the poem, but it was brought up by an NPR reporter, “and now you have. I didn’t bring it up. I’ll answer the substantive intelligent questions.”

He added the poem referred to people coming from Europe, where there were a class-based society, people were “wretched” if they “weren’t in the right class.”

“It was written one year after the first federal public charge rule was written that says, I’ll quote it, ‘any person unable to take care of himself without becoming a public charge,’ unquote, would be inadmissible.” 

Cuccinelli also accused the state of California, which is suing against the new Green Card rule requiring immigrants to be able to support themselves, of not reading its almost 1,000 pages front to back. 

“Nancy Pelosi referred to America’s proud heritage,” he said. “Self-sufficiency is a central part of America’s proud heritage, and we proudly stand behind that tradition.”

He also pointed out the law enforces a 1996 bill passed “on a wildly bipartisan basis,” and that, as the rule, is “well within the law.” He is confident the Trump administration will prevail in the lawsuit.

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