The president of the United States insists he is no racist.
Now, Illinois’ senior senator says the president has a chance to “prove it.”
Sen. Dick Durbin made his challenge on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as the nation wrestled over claims of racism inside the Oval Office. The firestorm began last week, with reports that President Donald Trump called some nations “shithole countries.”
Trump has denied using that language — and he fired back Monday in a tweet that referred to the senator as “Dicky Durbin.”
But it’s not the first time Trump has been accused of racism. And the latest controversy hung over events in Chicago on Monday meant to honor King. During one such event, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called it “sad commentary” that the president must “affirmatively declare” that he is not a racist.
Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner refused in a morning interview on WVON 1690 AM to apply the “racist” label not only to Trump, but to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The campaign of J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat running to challenge Rauner, quickly pounced.
“The governor believes that David Duke is a racist,” Justin Giorgio, a spokesman for
Rauner’s campaign, said later in an email. “As he stated in his interview this morning, the governor is working to bring all Illinoisans together to overcome the racism that exists in our society.”
As for Trump, Giorgio said, “the governor has made it clear that President Trump’s comments last week were unacceptable and have no place in our political discourse.”
Fireworks are likely to continue Tuesday, when Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is expected to testify during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing. Durbin is a member of the panel, and Nielsen attended the Thursday meeting at which Trump allegedly made his remark.
Durbin, a Democrat, is at the center of the latest maelstrom because he called the president out for the comment. Two GOP senators, Tom Cotton and David Perdue, have disputed Durbin’s account.
Durbin told the Sun-Times on Sunday that, “I stand by every word I said.” But that was before Trump told reporters, “I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you.”
So on Monday, Durbin explained that, “politics ain’t bean bag” and said if the White House has a recording of the meeting, it should release it. He also said if the president is not a racist, “the president and the Republican Party have a chance to prove it” through a bipartisan compromise over so-called “Dreamers” who were brought here illegally as children, through no fault of their own.
Trump announced last year that he will end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, unless lawmakers come up with a solution by March. Durbin has said, “We have a bipartisan proposal that should be called for a vote in the Senate this week.”
On Monday, Durbin also found himself dismissing a debate over whether Trump really said “shithole” or “shithouse” during the meeting. He said, “I don’t know that changing the word from ‘hole’ to ‘house’ changes the impact.”
“I stick with my original interpretation,” Durbin said. “I am stunned that this is their
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed to take a swipe Monday at Perdue and Cotton. He also attended the meeting — Durbin and Graham are leading a Senate bipartisan working group on immigration — and while he did not explicitly confirm that Trump made the remark, he did not dispute Durbin.
“My memory hasn’t evolved,” Graham told The Post and Courier in his home state. “I know what was said and I know what I said.”
Trump tweeted Monday that “Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting. Deals can’t get made when there is no trust! Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military.”
But Durbin said he did not regret calling Trump out for his remark — even if it ruins
the chances of a DACA compromise.
“It was important for the American people to know what the president’s motives are when it comes to this issue,” Durbin said. “For the longest time, he has argued this issue in terms of security and American jobs. What I heard at that meeting had nothing to do with security and American jobs.”
Contributing: Fran Spielman, Associated Press