Repub­li­can sen­a­tor ad­mon­ishes Trump

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NEWS - By Julie Hirschfeld Davis

WASHINGTON >> It was just af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had fin­ished rail­ing in the Oval Of­fice against African im­mi­grants he said came from “shit­hole coun­tries” when a se­nior Repub­li­can sen­a­tor, Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina, who was there to ne­go­ti­ate a deal on im­mi­gra­tion, spoke up.

“Amer­ica is an idea, not a race,” Gra­ham said, ac­cord­ing to three peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the ex­change Thurs­day. Di­ver­sity was a strength, he said, not a weak­ness. And by the way, the sen­a­tor added, he him­self was a de­scen­dant of im­mi­grants who came to the United States from “shit­hole coun­tries with no skills.”

Trump’s racially charged com­ments in front of sev­eral law­mak­ers, which also ex­tended to im­mi­grants from Haiti — fol­lowed by a day in which mem­bers of Congress de­nounced the pres­i­dent, de­fended him or stayed silent — now threaten what had been an emerg­ing agree­ment to pro­tect im­mi­grants brought il­le­gally to the United States as chil­dren.

Sev­eral peo­ple with knowl­edge of the con­ver­sa­tion said the pres­i­dent had also de­manded to know whether Haitian im­mi­grants could be re­moved. The White House has not dis­puted the ac­count of the ex­change.

The col­lapse of ne­go­ti­a­tions on an im­mi­gra­tion deal would raise the risk of a gov­ern­ment shut­down next week, given that many Democrats have said an im­mi­gra­tion deal must be in­cluded in any mea­sure to con­tinue fund­ing past a Jan. 19 dead­line.

To try to re­cover the po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive, the pres­i­dent took to Twit­ter on Fri­day with a vague de­nial, say­ing his re­marks at the meet­ing were “tough, but this was not the lan­guage used.”

But Sen. Richard J.

Durbin, D-Ill., told re­porters Fri­day that the pres­i­dent had used the ex­ple­tive sev­eral times, and had said “things which were hate­filled, vile and racist” dur­ing the meet­ing on im­mi­gra­tion — which Durbin also at­tended.

“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,” Durbin said.

SEN. TIM SCOTT, R-S.C., told The Post and Courier that Gra­ham had re­lated Trump’s re­marks to him af­ter the meet­ing, and he called news re­ports about them “ba­si­cally ac­cu­rate” based on that ac­count.

Ac­cord­ing to three peo­ple briefed about the meet­ing, it fea­tured a dra­matic mo­ment be­tween the pres­i­dent and Gra­ham, who re­ferred to Trump dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign as a “race-bait­ing, xeno­pho­bic, re­li­gious bigot,” but who has re­cently grown close to the pres­i­dent, ad­vis­ing him on im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

Af­ter Trump dis­par­aged African na­tions in foul terms, they said, Gra­ham an­swered with an im­pas­sioned de­fense of im­mi­grants and im­mi­gra­tion as pil­lars of the Amer­i­can ideals of di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion.

Gra­ham has not re­sponded to re­peated re­quests for com­ment on the pres­i­dent’s re­marks or his own. But on Fri­day he re­leased a state­ment that ap­peared to con­firm the tenor of both.

“Fol­low­ing com­ments by the pres­i­dent, I said my piece di­rectly to him yes­ter­day,” Gra­ham said. “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.”

IN TWIT­TER posts on Fri­day, Trump charged that Democrats had fab­ri­cated parts of the ex­change even as he de­fended the sen­ti­ment that prompted them, the latest turn in the saga sur­round­ing a meet­ing on Thurs­day called to dis­cuss progress to­ward a bi­par­ti­san im­mi­gra­tion deal.

Trump said he “never said any­thing deroga­tory about Haitians other than Haiti is, ob­vi­ously, a very poor and trou­bled coun­try,” and de­nied that he had asked to re­move them from the pro­posal, adding, “Made up by Dems.”

In a joint state­ment re­leased Fri­day, two Repub­li­can sen­a­tors who also at­tended the ses­sion, Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas and David Per­due of Georgia, charged that Democrats were act­ing dis­hon­or­ably in the im­mi­gra­tion talks, claim­ing that they could not re­mem­ber whether Trump used the words at­trib­uted to him.

“Pres­i­dent Trump brought ev­ery­one to the ta­ble this week and lis­tened to both sides, but re­gret­tably, it seems that not ev­ery­one is com­mit­ted to ne­go­ti­at­ing in good faith,” the sen­a­tors said. “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.”

Still, some Repub­li­cans con­demned the pres­i­dent’s re­marks, as Democrats an­nounced plans to in­tro­duce a res­o­lu­tion next week to for­mally cen­sure him for them.

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.”

Dick Durbin U.S. sen­a­tor

AT AN EVENT in Wis­con­sin on Fri­day, House Speaker Paul Ryan de­scribed Trump’s com­ments as “very un­for­tu­nate” and “un­help­ful.” Ryan went on to re­call how his own rel­a­tives im­mi­grated to the United States from Ire­land.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sug­gested the pres­i­dent’s in­abil­ity to re­frain from in­cen­di­ary state­ments was de­tract­ing from his agenda.

“It’s an un­ac­cept­able view of the world, and it’s an un­ac­cept­able thing to say,” Blunt told the ra­dio sta­tion KMBZ. “You would ex­pect the pres­i­dent to lead in de­ter­min­ing how you fil­ter your thoughts, rather than to con­tinue to say things that take a lot away from what’s ac­tu­ally get­ting done.”

Rep. Cedric L. Rich­mond, D-La., chair­man of the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus, and Rep. Jer­rold B. Nadler, D-N.Y., the rank­ing mem­ber of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said they would call on Repub­li­can lead­ers to bring up a res­o­lu­tion rep­ri­mand­ing the pres­i­dent for “racist state­ments.”

“We have to show the world that this pres­i­dent does not rep­re­sent the real feel­ings of most of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, which is part of the rea­son why he lost the pop­u­lar vote,” they said in a joint state­ment. “Congress must speak with one voice in con­demn­ing these of­fen­sive and anti-Amer­i­can re­marks. There is no ex­cuse for it.”

The bi­par­ti­san back­lash to the pres­i­dent’s com­ments in­ten­si­fied Fri­day as Trump signed a procla­ma­tion at the White House for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, ig­nor­ing a ques­tion from a re­porter about whether he is a racist.

NEW YORK TIMES

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