Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSchumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook MORE (D-Ill.) on Friday confirmed media reports that President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE disparaged several nations as “shithole countries” in a private meeting with lawmakers about immigration reform.
At a press conference, Durbin, who was the only Democrat at a Thursday meeting at the White House, said that Trump used “hate-filled, vile and racist” language to describe immigrants from poor countries.
“I cannot believe in this history of the White House, in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday,” Durbin said.
A second senator, Arizona Republican Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE, who has frequently tangled with Trump, tweeted that other senators meeting with Trump had relayed Trump’s remarks to him.
“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,” Flake tweeted.
None of the other Republican lawmakers who were present in the meeting responded to requests for comment, however, and GOP leadership has so far not weighed in.
Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles MORE (R-S.C.) and Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Tech groups take aim at Texas Republican lawmakers raise security, privacy concerns over Huawei cloud services Debt ceiling fight pits corporate America against Republicans MORE (R-Ark.) and Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden MORE (R-Va.) were the other lawmakers in the meeting.
Durbin said he personally heard Trump use the disparaging comments and that Graham “spoke up” and rebuked the president at the time.
“My colleague [Graham] spoke up and made a direct comment on what the president said,” Durbin said, according to MSNBC. “For him to confront the president as he did, literally sitting next to him, took extraordinary political courage and I respect him for it."
The White House initially declined to dispute a story, first published in The Washington Post, that Trump had complained about restoring protected status for immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and some in Africa.
Trump also reportedly said that Haitians should be removed from any immigration deal offering protected status to countries that lawmakers have targeted for special treatment.
But after anchors on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” — a show Trump is known to watch early in the morning — said that the president should “clarify” his comments, Trump issued a denial over Twitter.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump tweeted, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made — a big setback for DACA!”
“Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country,” he added. “Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings — unfortunately, no trust!”
But Durbin directly contradicted Trump.
“You’ve seen the comments in the press,” Durbin said. “I’ve not seen one of them that’s inaccurate. To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning, denying that he used those words. It is not true. He said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly.”
Flake has little to lose by firing on Trump; the Arizona Republican announced he was not running for reelection as Trump signaled support for his possible primary challengers.
The other GOP lawmakers tearing into Trump over his remarks were generally either frequent opponents of Trump who, like Flake, are retiring from office. Others are Republicans running in districts where ties to Trump could be a problem in the 2018 midterm elections.
Reps. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockThe Memo: Never Trumpers sink into gloom as Gonzalez bows out Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect The Memo: Trump pours gas on tribalism with Jan. 6 rewrite MORE (R-Va.), Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) Love'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements Black Republican advocates his case for CBC membership Black women look to build upon gains in coming elections MORE (R-Utah), Carlos Curbello (R-Fla.) and Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenThe Biden 15 percent global tax puts foreign companies ahead of American workers House panel opens probe into Tom Reed over sexual misconduct allegations GOP Rep. Tom Reed accused of sexual misconduct MORE (R-Minn.) — each a target for Democrats — all denounced the president.
Love’s remarks were particularly stinging, as the Utah Republican’s parents came to the United States from Haiti.
“The President must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned,” Love said.
While GOP leaders have yet to weigh in on the controversy, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) is likely to get asked about it at a press conference with a political reporter in Milwaukee scheduled for midday Friday.
The White House did not respond to multiple requests for a comment from The Hill and seemed to be hunkering down in hopes that the controversy blows over.
On Friday, the White House released a statement lauding China for curbing trade with North Korea and officials were preparing to release the president’s decision on whether he would re-certify Iran's compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal.
Trump appeared at a ceremony just before noon to commemorate Monday’s holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. As Trump exited the ceremony, reporters peppered him with questions, with one member of the press asking twice if he was “a racist.”
Blowback from Democrats over the remarks has been unequivocal, with lawmakers denouncing the president.
“We now know that we have in the White House someone who could lead the Ku Klux Klan in the United States of America,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said on MSNBC.