Trump’s ‘s—hole’ controversy shows no sign of easing
The controversy over President Trump’s reported use of the phrase “shithole countries” to describe several nations showed no sign of easing on Sunday, as lawmakers wrestled over the comment and what it means for immigration negotiations.
While lawmakers from both parties condemned the reported remark, some stopped short of labeling the president a racist, and two Republican senators either denied hearing the comment or said that the president did not utter the words.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that while he did not think the remark was “constructive,” he also believes it is “unfair” to label Trump a racist.
“You can’t have an immigration compromise if everybody’s out there calling the president a racist,” Paul told NBC’s “Meet the Press. “But both sides now are destroying the setting in which anything meaningful can happen on immigration.”
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), meanwhile, would not go so far as to call Trump a racist, but said “there’s no question” that the comment the president allegedly made during a White House meeting with lawmakers last week was racist.
“I was raised not to call people racist on the theory that it was hard for them to be rehabilitated once you said that,” Bennet said during an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“But there’s no question what he said was racist. There’s no question what he said was un-American and completely unmoored from the facts.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was not as generous, however, telling ABC that he thinks Trump is a racist and that he will not attend the president’s first State of the Union address.
“I don’t think there’s any way that you can square what the president said with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and what he said about Dr. King,” Lewis said when asked how he could “square” Trump’s comment with the president’s speech Friday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
“It’s just impossible. There’s not any way you can do that. It’s unreal. It’s unbelievable. It makes me sad. It makes me cry.”
Trump received swift backlash after The Washington Post reported last week that he referred to immigrants from African nations, El Salvador and Haiti as coming from “shithole countries.”
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump reportedly asked.
While the White House initially did not deny the remark, Trump on Friday denied saying “anything derogatory” about individuals from Haiti.
“Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!”
Republican Rep. Mia Love (Utah), the first Haitian-American elected to Congress, on Sunday admitted the comment was racist, but said it should not “derail” a fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“I can’t defend the indefensible. There are countries that do struggle out there, but their people are good people. Their people are part of us. We’re Americans,” Love told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Love said “the worst thing” that could occur is if lawmakers did not craft a legislative fix to DACA, an Obama-era program that protects immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Trump said last year he would rescind DACA, but gave lawmakers time to come up with a solution for its recipients.
“There are people that are depending on us, not just Americans on border security, but families that are waiting, that are in limbo, that need something that a president can’t give or take away from them,” Love said.
“We have to find a way to fix the immigration issue, fix the DACA issue. And we can’t let this derail us.”
Republican Sens. David Perdue (Ga.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.), both of whom participated in the meeting at the White House, said Friday that they did not “recall” Trump making the comment. Perdue took that one step further Sunday, saying Trump did not say what had been reported.
“I’m telling you he did not use that word, George. And I’m telling you it’s a gross misrepresentation. How many times do you want me to say that?” Perdue told ABC’s “This Week” after host George Stephanopoulos pushed for an answer.
Cotton during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” maintained that he did not hear Trump say the word in question.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday” that she did not “recall [Trump] saying that exact phrase.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a red-state Democrat up for his first reelection this year in a state Trump won by more than 40 points, said that while the comment was “hurtful,” it should not halt negotiations.
“So we’ve got to move on. I mean, if it was said in whatever content it was said, it was hurtful, it’s harmful, it shouldn’t have been said, but let’s move on,” Manchin told CBS. “Don’t let it stop the whole procedure.”
Lawmakers have until midnight on Jan. 19 to reach another deal to fund the government, which comes as Congress also pursues a legislative fix on DACA.
Trump has said his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, a key promise of his presidential campaign, “must be part of any DACA approval.” But the president on Sunday said “DACA is probably dead,” putting the blame on Democrats.
“DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military,” Trump wrote on Twitter.