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Trump works to fend off criticism over immigration remarks

President Donald Trump speaks during a prison reform

President Donald Trump speaks during a prison reform roundtable in the Roosevelt Room of the Washington, D.C., Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. Credit: AP / Carolyn Kaster

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump — on a federal holiday to honor slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. — continued to fend off criticism over his remarks last week describing Haiti and African nations in vulgar terms, saying on Twitter his comments were “misrepresented.”

Trump on Monday took aim at Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who publicly disclosed last Thursday that the president called Haiti and African nations “shithole countries” during a bipartisan White House meeting on saving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shields thousands of young immigrants from deportation.

“Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting,” Trump tweeted from Palm Beach, Fla. where he spent the weekend and part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “Deals can’t get made when there is no trust! Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military.”

Trump’s tweet comes as lawmakers rush to hammer out a new budget deal — one that also saves DACA — before a temporary spending bill expires Friday night at midnight.

Durbin, speaking to reporters in Illinois on Monday, stood by his account of the president’s remarks, amid ongoing debate over what was said at the meeting. Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), in Sunday talk show interviews denied the president used the term, after initially stating they couldn’t recall exactly what was said at the meeting.

“I know what happened. I stand behind every word that I said,” Durbin told reporters Monday.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), another stakeholder in the room last Thursday, who confirmed Durbin’s account to Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), told reporters Monday: “My memory hasn’t evolved. I know what was said and I know what I said.”

Trump’s dig at Durbin came hours after former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney invoked King to condemn the president’s remarks as “antithetical to American values.”

“The poverty of an aspiring immigrant’s nation of origin is as irrelevant as their race,” said Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, who is reportedly planning on running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Romney added: “The sentiment attributed to POTUS is inconsistent w/America’s history and antithetical to American values. May our memory of Dr. King buoy our hope for unity, greatness, & ‘charity for all.’”

King’s children also denounced Trump’s remarks at separate events. King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, told hundreds of congregants packed into Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church: “Our collective voice in this hour must always be louder than the one who sometimes does not reflect the legacy of my father.”

King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, speaking at a commemoration event in Washington D.C., took issue with reports that Trump at last week’s meeting questioned the need for more immigrants from Haiti versus those from countries such as Norway.

“When a president insists that our nation needs more citizens from white states like Norway, I don’t even think we need to spend any time even talking about what it says and what it is,” he said.

Trump, in a pre-recorded video posted by the White House on social media, paid tribute to King’s legacy, saying: “Dr. King’s dream is our dream. It is the American Dream . . .

“It is the dream of a world where people are judged by who they are, not how they look or where they come from.” he said.

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