Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin confirmed Friday that President Trump made comments he considered “vile and racist” about immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries during an immigration meeting he attended with the president Thursday.
Others who were at the meeting have said Trump questioned why the United States would accept immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti or those in Africa instead of places like Norway, whose prime minister he had met the day before.
“I have seen the comments in the press, I have not read one of them that’s inaccurate,” Durbin, a Democrat, told reporters in Chicago.
“In the course of (Trump’s) comments, he said things that were hate-filled, vile and racist,” the Illinois senator said Friday. “l use those words advisingly, I understand how powerful they are. I cannot believe that in the history of the White House and that Oval Office any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.”
On Friday, Trump denied using the language, about Haiti, and tried to turn the conversation to Democrats.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump tweeted. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made – a big setback for DACA!”
DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is the law that gave residency status to people who were brought to the country illegally. Trump and Congress are trying to resolve it after Trump ended the Obama-era program.
Shortly after, he tweeted “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country.”
Durbin is part of a bi-partisan group of six senators who announced Thursday the framework of a compromise on immigration. The legislation would provide a pathway to citizenship for so-called DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, but would also incorporate other border and internal security provisions to try to appease Republicans.
Durbin and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, joined other lawmakers who had been working on immigration legislation of their own at the White House Thursday. The president did not support their plan but the “Gang of Six” said they were planning to promote it to colleagues in the Senate to get more support.
“I think that will matter to the president,” Graham told reporters after the meeting Thursday. Trump is “very aware” you can’t fix this problem without the Democrats, Graham added.
Another lawmaker present at the White House meeting, GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, had been pushing for stronger immigration enforcement and a less generous package for the DREAMers. Goodlatte’s bill, introduced in the House Wednesday, also would lower overall immigration levels by 25%. Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., were also pushing for lowered levels of legal immigration.
Immigration legislation has become time-sensitive because when Trump ended DACA in September he gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative solution before announcing that deportations would begin. There is bi-partisan support for some form of protection, but just how much and what immigration enforcements need to be added in exchange is what’s being negotiated now.
For any bill to pass the Senate will require some support from Democrats. That’s because 60 votes will be needed to avoid a filibuster and Republicans have a narrow 51-49 majority. In the House, Republicans have enough members to pass GOP-only legislation but the party’s far-right wing has a lengthy list of demands that could make moderate members squeamish.