WASHINGTON — After two GOP senators on Sunday shows disputed Sen. Dick Durbin’s account that President Donald Trump used the phrase “shithole countries” during an Oval Office meeting on immigration, the Illinois Democrat did not back down.
“I stand by every word I said and I think my colleagues now have restored memory,” Durbin told the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday afternoon. “They were there. They heard the same words I did.”
Durbin also told the Sun-Times that Trump rejected a deal from his bipartisan Senate immigration working group for $1.6 billion in the next fiscal year for more border security — “barriers, fences and the like.”
Instead, Trump, who promised to build a southern border wall — and have Mexico pay for it — said he wanted $20 billion in one appropriation so he would not have to come back to Congress “and fight next year for this,” Durbin said.
“And we said, ‘That’s not how Congress works.’ ”
Speaking to reporters in Chicago on Friday, Durbin confirmed a Washington Post story that Trump used the vulgar expression at a meeting last Thursday.
The Post story attribution was to “several people briefed on the meeting,” not naming any sources, so the on-the-record confirmation from Durbin was important.
Trump’s use of the expletive — which he disputed in a Tweet — came during a hastily called meeting to discuss a bipartisan Senate immigration deal crafted by a group led by Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Trump ordered that Obama-era protections for “Dreamers,” youths brought to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own, end in March unless Congress comes up with a solution.
Durbin and Graham were surprised to find at that Thursday White House meeting to discuss their proposal the inclusion of immigration hardliners, including Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
After the Post story, Perdue and Cotton issued a joint statement that they did “not recall the President saying these comments specifically.”
On Sunday, Perdue and Cotton did recall more about that meeting in separate interviews in which they denied Trump used foul language about immigrants.
George Stephanopoulos, the host on ABC’s “This Week,” in an interview with Perdue pressed him on what Trump said.
Durbin has “been very clear. Senator Graham has told others the reports were basically accurate. Are you saying the president did not use the word that has been so widely reported?”
Perdue replied, “I’m telling you he did not use that word, George, and I’m telling it’s a gross misrepresentation.”
On CBS’ “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson, interviewing Cotton, asked “Senator, your view on this that (Trump) said this word?
“Yes, John, I didn’t hear that word either. I certainly didn’t hear what Senator Durbin has said repeatedly,” Cotton said.
The drama over the fate of the “Dreamers” comes as the March deadline looms and the federal government faces a shutdown if Congress does not pass a budget by Friday.
Durbin is the father of the Dreamer movement and has been crusading for protections for these youths for more than 16 years.
MORE DETAILS FROM DURBIN
Going into more detail on Sunday, Durbin said that Trump used the term “shithole countries” about immigrants from African nations in a conversation where Trump questioned the need to admit people from Haiti and El Salvador into the U.S.
Durbin told the Sun-Times that following the White House meeting, he and Graham went back to Capitol Hill “and we called almost all, I think all but one of our group, the six that had negotiated.”
“And Lindsay and I briefed these Republican and Democratic senators . . . to try to understand what was our best strategy at this point to achieve our goal,” Durbin said.
The senators Durbin and Graham briefed included Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona; Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey.
Durbin was asked by the Sun-Times why he did not go public until after the Washington Post story.
Durbin said he was prompted by Trump’s denial.
Trump said in a Tweet, “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!”
DACA refers to former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“And I was hit between the eyes when I got up in the morning and saw that the president had tweeted a denial of what was said. And I felt that was a statement that had to be answered directly,” Durbin said.
Durbin told the Sun-Times that neither he nor his staff were the sources for the Post story.