Last week, President Trump, during a meeting with a group of lawmakers on immigration, questioned why the U.S. allows immigrants from “shithole countries,” by which he apparently meant African nations and Haiti. After the report of Trump’s characterization of those countries surfaced, the White House didn’t deny the president used the word. Thursday evening Trump reportedly was even on the phone gloating about the coverage to friends and allies. The following day Trump muddied the waters by issuing and kinda sorta denial. Soon, the line shifted with the Republican senators and the president saying his remarks were “misrepresented.”
So what did the people in the room and beyond have to say about what President Trump’s remarks? The Thursday meeting was attended by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and David Perdue (R-Ga.), along with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois:
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said he confronted Trump during the meeting about the president’s derogatory comments. Fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott said the reports on Trump’s comments aligned with what Sen. Graham told him personally (via the Post and Courier).
“Following comments by the president, I said my piece directly to him yesterday,” Graham said in a statement. “The president and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel,” he added.
“I’ve always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals.”
“My colleague (Sen. Graham) spoke up and made a direct comment on what the president said,” Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “For him to confront the president as he did, literally sitting next to him, took extraordinary political courage and I respect him for it.”
Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue and Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton:
“We do not recall the President saying these comments specifically but what he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest,” [the senators] said in a statement.
In Washington to “not recall” something these days is basically another way of saying yeah, that thing happened but I don’t want to say it. Over the weekend, both Perdue and Cotton stepped up their still equivocating defense of the president.
Sen. Perdue: “I’m telling you he did not use that word, George, and I’m telling you it’s a gross misrepresentation,” Perdue told moderator George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”
Sen. Cotton: “I didn’t hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was,” [Sen.] Cotton said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Sidenote on Sens. Perdue and Cotton’s responses:
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen went on Fox News Sunday with a slight variation of the I do not recall non-denial denial. (via CNN)
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on “Fox News Sunday” that she did not recall Trump saying “that exact phrase.” “It was an impassioned conversation,” Nielsen said when pressed. “I don’t recall that specific phrase being used. That’s all I can say about that.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, attended the meeting, but has refused to confirm or deny Trump’s verbiage. (via WPLG Miami)
“This is a president that said things differently than clearly I would say them,” Diaz-Balart told Local 10’s Glenna Milberg Monday. “I will not comment on what may or may not have been said … I will not be in a position to solve this problem.”
“I’m the only person from South Florida that has a seat at this table,” Diaz-Balart said. “I am going to use it not to criticize, not to point fingers, but to stop the imminent deportation of 800,000 young people.”
Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan:
“I read those comments later last night, the first thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate, unhelpful,” the Wisconsin Republican said at WisPolitics Luncheon in Milwaukee.
Ohio Governor and former Presidential Candidate John Kasich:
Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch:
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney:
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Robert Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, who were both in the meeting, have yet to issue public statements on the contents of Thursday’s meeting.