Republicans seek to distance themselves from Trump remarks
A number of Republicans are distancing themselves from President Trump’s remarks describing Haiti and other developing nations as “shithole countries” as coverage of the incendiary comments for a second day dominates news coverage.
GOP lawmakers in swing districts and Republicans who represent populations of immigrants from the countries insulted by Trump were the quickest to separate themselves from the president’s comments as they sought to insulate themselves from blowback.
Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) were among the vulnerable Republicans who spoke out against the remarks.
Comstock, who represents a toss-up district in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, said in a statement she could not defend the president’s reported comments and described the country’s diversity as a “strength.”
Curbelo tweeted that it is unacceptable to denigrate and degrade immigrants receiving Temporary Protected Status in the United States. Trump’s remark that the United States should not take immigrants from “shithole countries” was reportedly made in the context of discussions about giving visas to people from Haiti, El Salvador and African nations where some immigrants have that status.
Like Comstock, Curbelo is a top Democratic target in this fall’s midterms who has sought to differentiate himself from Trump.
Another Republican in a leaning-red district, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), told MSNBC on Saturday that Trump needed to be more “responsible” with his remarks.
“I do believe the president should be more responsible in his comments,” Lance told the network.
Republicans who are sometimes more in line with the president also sought some distance on Friday.
Republicans from Florida, home to many immigrants, fired off some of the sharpest criticism, The Washington Post reported.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a rival of Trump’s in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, sent out more than a dozen tweets on Friday hailing contributions from Haitian immigrants and defending immigrants from Haiti and El Salvador.
While Rubio offered support for changing the family-based U.S. immigration system that gives advantages to relatives of people already in the United States — something Trump is demanding — he criticized the president’s reported remarks for linking the problems in immigrants’ home countries to the immigrants themselves.
“#Florida is home to many people who came from these troubled nations & contribute to our economy through hard work & entrepreneurship,” he wrote in one tweet.
“And Florida is home to people from these two countries whose children have fought for & even tragically died in the service of America.”
Rubio represents a state with a large number of Haitian immigrants, a situation that may have made the controversy hit deeper for him.
Similarly, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) condemned the remarks, saying that if they were true, he did not agree with the sentiment.
Scott called Florida an “amazing melting pot” and said he worked to make it a welcoming state for everyone, mentioning Haitians specifically.
Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) blasted the president on Twitter, meanwhile, saying the language “shouldn’t be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn’t be heard in the White House.”
“It is incomprehensible that the president would say such racist things,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring at the end of this Congress. Democrats are favored to win her seat in this fall’s contests.
“This country was founded on freedom from discrimination and @potus’ statements are embarrassing,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Scott’s comments were noteworthy given Trump’s reported efforts to convince Scott to run for the Senate in Florida against Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Scott also recently criticized a decision by the administration to open up drilling on the Florida coast, one reversed for his state after his complaints.
Nelson has sought to tie Scott to the president ahead of Scott’s Senate bid, and in a recent fundraising email accused the governor and Trump of spending New Year’s at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort “plotting their campaign against me.”
Republican leaders in Congress have been reserved in their remarks. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a televised interview on Friday called the comments “unhelpful” and “unfortunate,” but did not give a more forceful denunciation of them.
One senior GOP member who did offer criticism was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who despite being in Arizona for medical reasons issued a statement through his office.
“Respect for the God-given dignity of every human being, no matter their race, ethnicity or other circumstances of their birth, is the essence of American patriotism,” McCain said in a statement.
“To believe otherwise is to oppose the very idea of America,” he continued. “People have come to this country from everywhere, and people from everywhere have made America great. Our immigration policy should reflect that truth, and our elected officials, including our President, should respect it.”