Sen. Dick Durbin left the White House Thursday “sickened and heartbroken,” after hearing President Donald Trump refer to certain nations as “shithole countries,” Illinois’ senior senator told reporters Friday.
“I cannot imagine that in the history of [the Oval Office], that hallowed room, where the president of the United States goes to work every day, there has ever been a conversation quite like that. It was vile, it was hateful, it was racist,” Durbin told reporters after attending a breakfast in the city to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Durbin said Trump repeated the term “shithole” during a meeting that was, ostensibly, a discussion about a potentially bipartisan deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. Trump has since tweeted that he used “tough” language during the meeting but never used the derogatory language that has caused outrage across the globe.
At a White House event during which he signed a proclamation to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Trump on Friday ignored shouted questions from a reporter who asked if he is a “racist.”
When told that Trump denied making the remarks, Durbin said: “It speaks for itself. There were witnesses. There were 12 of us in the room.”
Two Republican senators who were also at the meeting Thursday — Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia — have since issued a joint statement, saying they didn’t recall Trump “saying these comments specifically.”
“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 two senators said in their statement.
“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. We, along with the President, are committed to solving an issue many in Congress have failed to deliver on for decades.”
Durbin said he and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, had gone to the White House Thursday to present details of a bipartisan compromise that would extend protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants — and also strengthen border protections, as Trump has insisted.
As Graham read the agreement, Trump started making comments and asking questions, Durbin said.
“And that’s when things deteriorated rapidly,” Durbin said.
Durbin said that he and Graham talked about people living in the United States on “temporary protected status” — people from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti.
Trump then told the senators, “ ‘Haitians — we don’t need more Haitians,’” Durbin said.
Then Trump began talking about immigration from Africa.
“That’s when he used those sickening, heartbreaking remarks, saying, ‘Those shitholes send us the people that they don’t want.’ He repeated that. He didn’t just say it one time,” Durbin said.
Then there was a discussion about “chain migration,” a term the Trump administration has used to describe immigrants who’ve come to America and are trying to petition to have family members join them, Durbin said.
“I said to [Trump] that that term, ‘chain migration,’ was so hurtful to so many people, particularly to African-Americans, who remind us that they migrated to America in chains. He said, ‘That’s a good line,’ dismissing it,” Durbin said.
Graham released his own statement, not directly addressing whether Trump made the remarks, but touting diversity as a national strength and saying he appreciates “Senator Durbin’s statements.”
“Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday, the South Carolina Republican 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.
“The American ideal is embraced by people all over the globe. It was best said a long time ago, E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many, One. Diversity has always been our strength, not our weakness. In reforming immigration we cannot lose these American Ideals.”
At the end of the meeting, Durbin said, it was clear Trump had rejected the plan.
“I came back shaken, personally and politically shaken, by what he said,” Durbin said.
Trump’s alleged remarks sparked outrage around the world, and in Illinois.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush called Trump’s remarks “disgusting and infuriating.”
“These comments not only highlight his pure ignorance, moral turpitude, and lack of judgment but his racism that has been a fixture of his career, campaign, and presidency,” the South Side Democrat said in a statement.
Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Western Springs Democrat, said the president’s remarks are “extremely counter-productive in achieving” a resolution of the DACA issue.
“But the impact doesn’t end there,” he said. “Whoever sits in the office of President of the United States has a specially high responsibility to respect and promote the dignity of each and every individual no matter who they are or where they come from. This is not just an American value, but a human value. President Trump needs to start living up to this responsibility.”
Illinois Republicans joined in the criticism.
Rep. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, said: “If true, the reported comments made by the President are disappointing and I urge him to reiterate his commitment to continuing America’s legacy as a welcoming country for those seeking a better life and those willing to play by the rules,” Roskam said.
“Our country has opened its arms to legal immigrants from around the world and we should never disparage anyone from any country.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Channahon Republican, said “the reported language used yesterday is unbecoming of the President, the leader of the free world. We are better than this and such comments are unacceptable, no matter the context. Divisive language detracts from our common goals and the task at hand.”