WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday denied reports he used vulgar terms to describe Haiti and Africa at a meeting about immigration Thursday, but Sen. Dick Durbin pushed back, saying that “he said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly.”
Durbin (D-Ill.) confirmed news reports that in response to a measure to allow immigration from African nations, Trump said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said he favored letting in people from Norway instead.
The White House did not deny the comments Thursday evening, even as the remarks stirred a stunned and growing furor overnight and into Friday by lawmakers from both parties, civil rights advocates, and African and Haitian leaders.
Yet on Friday Trump blamed Democrats for the uproar over the reported comments, saying he “should record future meetings,” and tweeted his denial: “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.”
Trump specifically denied that he belittled Haiti or said immigrants from Haiti should be taken out of the immigration plan, tweeting, “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country.”
Durbin, who was the only Democrat in the room, told reporters Friday that Trump made the “vile” and “racist” comments in an Oval Office meeting Thursday as he and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) presented a bipartisan immigration proposal.
Trump rejected the proposal that would protect the status of immigrants brought to the United States as children under the DACA program that Trump has ordered to end in March using vile language, Durbin said, and later called their plan “a big step backwards.”
“You’ve seen the comments in the press. I have not read one of them that is inaccurate,” Durbin told reporters. “To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning, denying he used those words. It is not true. He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly.”
Durbin said Graham “spoke up and made a direct comment on what the president 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.”
In a statement, Graham said he appreciated Durbin’s comments and added, “Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday. The President and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel.”
Two Republicans in the meeting, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), said in a statement, “In regards to Senator Durbin’s accusation, we do not recall the President saying these comments specifically.”
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a Trump critic who is retiring at the end of this year, however, tweeted, “The words used by the President, as related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance, were not ‘tough,’ they were abhorrent and repulsive.”
Defending Trump, Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) told “Fox & Friends,” “I’ve said all along the president many times says what people are thinking.” Renacci added that in four years “Let’s judge the president after what we’ve done — let’s not judge the president on what he says.”
The president did not respond to questions from reporters about his denial or reported comments as he marked Monday’s commemoration of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a Friday ceremony at the White House.
The remarks were condemned by several politicians Friday, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) who commented at a political event in Wisconsin, calling the comments “very unfortunate, unhelpful.”
At Thursday’s immigration meeting, Trump said he objected to continued protective status for Haitians along with Salvadorans, Durbin said. “Haitians. Do we need more Haitians?” Trump said, according to Durbin.
“Then he went on when we started to describe the immigration from Africa that was being protected in this bipartisan measure,” the senator said.
“That’s when he used these vile vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from ‘shitholes.’ The exact word used by the president. Not just once but repeatedly,” Durbin said.
Later Friday, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, announced they would introduce a motion to censure the president for his comments.