WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) confirmed that he said his “piece” to President Trump in an Oval Office meeting Thursday at which the commander in chief allegedly derided immigrants from “shithole” countries.
Graham, who was one of a handful of senators inside the meeting to discuss immigration reform, issued a statement that touched on his version of what unfolded as another lawmaker in the room, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), told MSNBC that Graham confronted Trump on his remarks.
The Washington Post reported that Trump made the comment during an Oval Office meeting with immigration negotiators. “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, suggesting that more immigrants be brought into the country from places like Norway or Asia.
“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump reportedly said. “Take them out.”
White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement in response to the Washington Post report that “like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”
Trump tweeted this morning, “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. 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. Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!” the president added.
Durbin said in a statement today that “in the course of his comments, President Trump said things that were hate-filled, vile, and racist.”
“He used those words, and he used them repeatedly,” Durbin said. “I cannot believe that in the history of the White House, in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.”
He recounted to reporters what he heard: “He said, ‘Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?’ And then he went on when we started to describe the immigration from Africa that was being protected in this bipartisan measure. That’s when he used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from ‘shitholes.’ The exact word used by the president, not just once, but repeatedly.”
The Senate minority whip also told MSNBC today that Graham “spoke up and made a direct comment on what the president said.”
Durbin said that for Graham “to confront the president as he did, literally sitting next to him, took extraordinary political courage and I respect him for it.”
Graham acknowledged that “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. I’ve always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals,” he said. “The American ideal is embraced by people all over the globe. It was best said a long time ago, E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many, One. Diversity has always been our strength, not our weakness. In reforming immigration we cannot lose these American Ideals.”
“The American people will ultimately judge us on the outcome we achieve, not the process which led to it,” Graham added.
The South Carolina senator said he appreciated Durbin’s statements and has “enjoyed working with him and many others on this important issue.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) had told the Post and Courier in Charleston that Graham told him Trump’s comments as reported were “basically accurate.”
“If that comment is accurate, the comment is incredibly disappointing,” Scott said. “We ought not to disparage any other nation, frankly. Thinking about the success of America. It is the melting pot. It’s the ability to weave together multiple communities together for one nation.”
Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who were also in the meeting, issued a joint statement saying that “in regards to Senator Durbin’s accusation, we do not recall the president saying these comments specifically but what he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) was also present at the talks, and did not deny or confirm Trump’s reported comments. The congressman said he wanted to keep his eye on the ball in saving nearly 800,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program beneficiaries and “will not be diverted from all possible efforts to continue negotiating to stop the deportations.”
“Nothing will divert my focus to stop the deportation of these innocent people whose futures are at stake,” Diaz-Balart added.
During an event today at the University of Wisconsin, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he found Trump’s reported comments “very unfortunate” and “unhelpful.”
“I thought about my own family” of Irish immigrants, Ryan said, calling immigration “a beautiful story of America.”
“I see this as a thing to celebrate and I think it’s a big part of our strength,” he added.