The spotlight is on Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the only Democrat in the Oval Office when President Donald Trump used the word “shithole” to describe Haiti, El Salvador and African nations while discussing immigration.
Durbin went on the record Friday morning to confirm the Washington Post story about Trump’s shocking comments.
He also revealed, while talking to reporters in Chicago, the remarkable backstory of how this latest chapter of Trump’s chaotic presidency came to be.
At that Thursday session, according to Durbin, Trump wondered why the United States did not instead try to get more Europeans, citing, for example, from Norway. Trump welcomed Norway’s Prime Minister Solberg to the White House on Wednesday; that might be why the Nordic country was on his mind.
Trump’s remarks had an obvious racial component – and came days before the nation celebrates the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.
According to the CIA fact book, Haiti is 95 percent black; El Salvador is 86.3 percent Mestizo — mixed race of native Indians and Spaniards — with 83.2 percent of Norway white.
Let’s take a step back to explain why Durbin was even in the Oval Office with Trump on Thursday.
For more than 16 years, Durbin has been on a crusade to legalize the status of youths illegally in the U.S. through no fault of their own, having been brought here by their parents.
Durbin created what is known as the “Dreamer” movement. Yes, it all started with Durbin.
He was spurred to action when a young woman named Tereza Lee, born in Brazil, the daughter of South Koreans who wound up in Chicago, needed help to resolve her immigration status.
That led Durbin to introduce the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act for the first time in 2001.
The acronym – DREAM – spawned “Dreamer,” which has become part of the U.S. lexicon.
Lee became a citizen in 2010, after she married a U.S. citizen.
There’s a crisis now over the status of “Dreamers,” one of Trump’s making.
Former President Barack Obama extended protections to the group. When Trump last year ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – known as DACA — he challenged Congress to come up with a permanent fix by March 5.
After that, if there is no deal, Dreamers are in jeopardy – of deportation at some point and, of more immediate concern, the ability to work legally in the U.S.
The clock is ticking.
Trump hosted a large bipartisan meeting at the White House on Tuesday, which turned into a spectacle, given that Trump let the camera-wielding press pool stay for 55 minutes.
Durbin sat to one side of Trump because he was the highest-ranking Democratic senator in the room.
He’s also one of the lead Democratic negotiators on immigration.
After the Trump show, Durbin went back to the Capitol and huddled with the Senate bipartisan immigration group he has been negotiating with for months.
They came up with a deal.
Durbin explained what happened next on Friday morning.
Ironically, he was attending Chicago’s 32nd annual Interfaith breakfast commemorating the life of the slain civil rights leader.
“I’ve been working for four months on a bipartisan effort to deal with the Dreamers and DACA and immigration,” Durbin said.
“It’s been a bipartisan effort with six senators, three Republicans and three Democrats.
“We reached an agreement.
“So the president invited me to call him when we had our little get-together in the Cabinet Room.
“I called him yesterday morning about 10 o’clock.
“He called me right back. And I told him we had an agreement and I wanted to present it to him.
“He invited me to come to the White House with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
“We arrived at noon to make our presentation to the president.
“To our surprise, he or someone in the White House invited five other members of Congress,” Durbin said, ticking off the names – House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy R-Calif., and Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Mario Diaz-Balart R-Fla. Plus Sens. David Perdue, R-Ga., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
Goodlatte and Perdue are anti-immigration hardliners, injected into what was supposed to be a briefing to poison the outcome.
As Graham was speaking, Durbin said, Trump “started making comments and asking questions, and that’s when things started deteriorating rapidly.”
Trump said he didn’t say it. Graham’s statement didn’t deny Durbin’s account.
This is likely the most explosive episode in Durbin’s long congressional career, with this one having a global impact.
Contributing: Stefano Esposito