President Donald Trump lashed out at Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin on Monday, taking to Twitter to say Illinois’ senior senator “totally misrepresented what was said” at a meeting on immigration during which Trump was accused of using vulgar language to describe certain countries.
Trump said in his tweet that Durbin “blew” efforts to reach a deal on immigration, including addressing the fate of those who came to the U.S. illegally as children under a policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
“Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting. Deals can’t get made when there is no trust! Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military,” Trump said in the tweet posted Monday afternoon.
Durbin had criticized Trump for using what he said was “hate-filled, vile and racist” language when talking about immigrants from Haiti and Africa during an Oval Office meeting last week. Durbin said Trump referred to African nations as “shithole countries” and asked why America would want to accept more immigrants from Haiti.
Durbin was in Chicago on Monday to speak at a volunteer event to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Asked about Republican lawmakers who say they didn’t hear Trump say “shithole,” Durbin said he stood by his account.
“I know what happened,” Durbin said. “I stand behind every word that I said in terms of that meeting.”
Durbin dismissed comments from a White House aide and reported by the Washington Post that Trump actually said “shithouse,” saying it does not change “the impact.”
“I stick with my original interpretation. I am stunned that this is their defense,” Durbin said.
Asked later Monday to respond to the president’s tweet, Durbin’s office pointed to a statement made on Twitter by communications director Ben Marter.
“Senator Durbin is focused building additional support for the only bipartisan immigration deal in Congress,” Marter wrote.
Trump’s tweet followed the president’s stop at the Trump International Golf Club in Florida earlier Monday. On Sunday night, Trump took questions and denied using the phrase “shithole countries,” according to the Post.
“No, no, I’m not a racist,” Trump said. “I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you.”
According to an account Durbin gave on Friday, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was outlining a tentative bipartisan agreement on immigration they hoped Trump would support. That’s when Trump began interjecting, Durbin said.
“When we talked about those in the United States on temporary protected status, there was a comment they were from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti,” Durbin said. “ ‘Haitians?’ (Trump) said. ‘We don’t need more Haitians.’ ”
“Then we went on and the president started commenting on immigration from Africa,” Durbin said. “And that’s when he used those sickening, heartbreaking remarks, saying ‘Those shitholes send us the people they don’t want.’ He repeated that. He didn’t just say it one time.”
Durbin said Trump in the meeting called for more Europeans to be admitted to the U.S., saying at one point, “Why don’t we get more people from Norway?’ “
In a statement Friday, Graham neither directly confirmed nor disputed Trump’s words as reported, but said, “following comments by the president, I said my piece directly to him yesterday.”
Republican Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who were at the meeting, both said on Sunday news shows that Durbin misrepresented Trump’s comments.
But Graham said Monday that “my memory hasn’t evolved.”
“I know what was said and I know what I said,” Graham told the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.
The Post and Courier reported that Graham responded to Trump’s comments by telling the president that “America is an idea, not a race.”
“I tried to make it very clear to the president that when you say ‘I’m an American,’ what does that mean?” Graham said, according to the Post and Courier. “It doesn’t mean that they’re black or white, rich or poor. It means that you buy into an ideal of self-representation, compassion, tolerance, the ability to practice one’s religion without interference and the acceptance of those who are different.
“So at the end of the day, an American is a person who believes in ideals that have stood the test of time,” Graham added, the Post and Courier reported. “It’s not where you come from that matters, it’s what you’re willing to do once you get here.”
And while Graham said in his interview with the Post and Courier that the meeting with Trump was “disappointing,” he said the only way forward was through bipartisan negotiation, including with the president.
Democrats in Illinois have seized on the chance to rebuke Trump, while Republicans have condemned the remarks.
Asked during an interview on WVON-AM on Monday if he thought Trump was racist, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner repeated earlier comments about the meeting in which he said “that language has no place in our political conversation.”
Rauner’s answer was criticized by Democratic governor hopeful J.B. Pritzker’s campaign.
“This isn’t hard,” said Pritzker campaign spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh. “Bruce Rauner is a coward, hiding behind talking points because it’s easier than standing up to the worst elements in his political party.”
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