Trump allies see 's---hole' controversy as overblown

The White House believes it can brush off the latest racially-charged controversy confronting it, with allies arguing the blowback over President TrumpDonald John TrumpAl Gore: Trump has had 'less of an impact on environment so far than I feared' Trump claims tapes of him saying the 'n-word' don't exist Trump wanted to require staffers to get permission before writing books: report MORE’s disparaging remarks about “shithole” countries is just the latest example of overcooked media outrage and weak GOP lawmakers buckling under pressure.

The president had few defenders on the airwaves on Friday, as cable news outlets went wall-to-wall with coverage about how Trump had complained in an Oval Office meeting about restoring protected status for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.

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Privately, sources close to the White House were unbowed and dismissive of what they described as predictable hysteria over Trump’s vulgar remarks.

“It’s a classic example of how D.C. and New York react versus how the rest of the country reacts,” said one former White House official. “What people in the media class still don’t understand is that this guy talks like a normal person and that’s why he won in the first place. I’m sorry if it offends the media’s delicate sensibilities but the reality is more Americans speak like President Trump than speak like [CNN anchor] Jim Acosta.”

Furthermore, Trump’s advisers argued that the president was merely articulating — however crudely — the conservative position on immigration: That the U.S. should be able to decide who is allowed into the country and that lawmakers should implement a merit-based immigration system rather than opening the borders to immigrants looking to escape dysfunctional or poverty-stricken parts of the world.

“The point is, if you have a Ph.D., I don’t care what country you’re from, we want you,” said Barry Bennett, a former adviser on Trump’s transition team. “We should be allowed to be aspirational.”

Trump has denied making the remarks, but Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems seize on Kavanaugh emails to question role in terrorism response Trump gives thumbs up to prison sentencing reform bill at pivotal meeting Overnight Defense: Officials make show of force on election security | Dems want probe into Air Force One tours | Pentagon believes Korean War remains 'consistent' with Americans MORE (D-Ill.), who was in the meeting, told reporters that Trump had used “hate-filled, vile and racist” language to describe immigrants. Several Republican senators with direct knowledge of the incident confirmed Durbin’s story.

The administration appeared hunkered down on Friday in hopes the controversy would pass.

The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment and the president ignored shouted questions from reporters at a ceremony honoring civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. about whether he is a racist.

Trump did not take questions as he was whisked away for a long weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

But the president’s denial and the silence from the White House did nothing to quell the outrage from Democrats, who were unequivocal in their condemnations of Trump as a racist.

“Republicans in Congress must now summon the courage to stand up to the racist ramblings of our ‘stable genius’ president,” tweeted Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Health Care: States fight Trump on non-ObamaCare plans | Analysis looks into surprise medical bills | Left hits industry group working against single payer Overnight Energy: Trump Cabinet officials head west | Zinke says California fires are not 'a debate about climate change' | Perry tours North Dakota coal mine | EPA chief meets industry leaders in Iowa to discuss ethanol mandate Sen. Sanders blasts Zinke: Wildfires 'have everything to do with climate change' MORE (I-Vt.).

Republicans also criticized Trump, though their words were often softer. Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanVulnerable Republicans include several up-and-coming GOP leaders Trump ally suspends reelection campaign Congress should prohibit members from serving on company boards MORE (R-Wis.) called the remarks “unhelpful” and “unfortunate” before launching into a personal story about the bigotry his Irish ancestors faced as American immigrants.

Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveUtah newspapers slam GOP’s Mia Love for 'deliberately deceptive' mailers 10 dark horse candidates for Speaker of the House Overnight Energy: Proposed rule would roll back endangered species protections | House passes Interior, EPA spending | House votes to disavow carbon tax MORE (R-Utah), whose parents are from Haiti, was tougher, and demanded Trump apologize to the nations he “wantonly maligned.”

Love is also facing a potentially tough reelection race this year, and Republicans in such situations appeared more likely to be critical of Trump on Friday.

Robert Graham, a Trump ally and former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, dismissed criticism that Trump’s remarks had been racially-motivated. Graham lived in Haiti for 11 years and helped build a hospital after a devastating earthquake leveled much of the infrastructure there in 2010.

 “All they want to do is call people racist and smash them,” Graham said. “I think [the left has] overused the race card so much they've destroyed it.”

But for many in the GOP, the “shithole” controversy was the latest inexplicable outrage from a president they view as continually blown off course by ugly controversies. 

Republicans are beginning to express panic about their prospects in the 2018 midterm elections and worry that Trump’s drag on their brand — exacerbated by his propensity to careen from controversy to controversy — could cost them the House and the Senate.

Generic ballot polling consistently shows Democrats with a double-digit lead and many senior Republicans in the House are retiring from Congress rather than face reelection.

Trump’s approval rating is historically low for a president at this point in his first term. 

One startling poll released Friday suggested Trump’s political base has narrowed significantly. In Georgia, a deep-red state that Republicans have carried in eight of the last nine presidential elections, only about 37 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing, compared to 59 percent who say they disapprove.

The GOP’s alarm over the prospect of a Democratic wave election was underscored by the swift condemnation of Trump’s remarks from Republicans facing reelection in competitive districts in 2018.

“Under no circumstances is it acceptable to degrade, denigrate, or dehumanize [Temporary Protected Status] immigrants,” said Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloGOP lawmaker: Every white suburban district in the country will be a swing district this year The Hill's Morning Report — Election Day drama for Trump Trump sides with conservatives on shutdown messaging MORE (R-Fla.).

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: FBI fires Strzok after anti-Trump tweets | Trump signs defense bill with cyber war policy | Google under scrutiny over location data | Sinclair's troubles may just be beginning | Tech to ease health data access | Netflix CFO to step down Signs grow that Mueller is zeroing in on Roger Stone Omarosa claims president called Trump Jr. a 'f--- up' for releasing Trump Tower emails MORE won Curbelo’s South Florida district by 17 points in 2016.

Love, the Utah Republican, and Reps. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockClosing diversity gaps in patenting is essential to innovation economy Dems eyeing smaller magic number for House majority House GOP starts summer break on a note of friction MORE (R-Va.) and Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenAllow HSA dollars to be used for over-the-counter drugs Overnight Health Care: House votes to repeal medical device tax | Fierce ObamaCare critic joins administration | GOP senators target DC individual mandate House votes to repeal ObamaCare medical device tax MORE (R-Minn.) are among the other swing-district Republicans who were quick to condemn Trump’s remarks.

Trump’s allies had no pity for those with tough reelection prospects, saying that their best play is to get on board with the president’s agenda.

“They need to recognize that their ability to return to Congress is overwhelmingly based on Trump’s approval rating, so the only thing they can do is to push the agenda that was overwhelmingly approved by American voters,” said one transition adviser. “They need to stop coming up with excuses about why things are always stuck on Capitol Hill.”

Still, the controversy threatened to derail fragile negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over the fate of immigrants brought into the country at a young age, at a time when Congress is also scurrying to agree on a spending bill and avoid a government shutdown.

Republican lawmakers that were present for the immigration negotiations where Trump made the disparaging remarks tried to avoid public confrontation with the president, knowing they would need him to sign off on any legislation that gets passed.

Durbin said that Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWhite House staff offered discounts at Trump's NJ golf club: report Graham: DOJ official was 'unethical' in investigating Trump campaign because his wife worked for Fusion GPS Sunday shows preview: Virginia lawmakers talk Charlottesville, anniversary protests MORE (R-S.C.) had confronted Trump about the remarks during the meeting. Graham declined to confirm the language that Trump used, but said in a statement that he had spoken his mind “directly to the president” at the meeting.

Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonRubio slams Google over plans to unveil censored Chinese search engine Bipartisanship alive and well, protecting critical infrastructure Exclusive: Bannon blasts 'con artist' Kochs, 'lame duck' Ryan, 'diminished' Kelly MORE (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), both of whom were present for the meeting, said they could not recall whether Trump had used the incendiary language but that Trump had expressed his displeasure with an immigration system that he believes is tilted against American workers.

Sen. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyEnergy Department clears ‘small-scale’ natural gas exports for fast approval GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Lawmakers pitch dueling plans for paid family leave MORE (R-La.) blamed Democrats for the controversy, saying that the leak of Trump’s remarks “undermines trust going forward.”

“Whatever was or was not said, if you disagree with what the fellow or gal says, disagree with them publicly then, but to go out and kind of report it is going to undermine trust,” Cassidy said. “Not just for this issue, but for future issues.”