Hillary Clinton on Friday called President Donald Trump’s reported remarks racist as she added her voice to the uproar after the president allegedly derided Haitians and referred to African nations as “shithole” countries in a discussion on immigration.
The anniversary of the devastating earthquake 8 years ago is a day to remember the tragedy, honor the resilient people of Haiti, & affirm America’s commitment to helping our neighbors. Instead, we‘re subjected to Trump’s ignorant, racist views of anyone who doesn’t look like him.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) January 12, 2018
Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga, went further: “I think the words and his actions tend to speak like one who knows something about being a racist. It must be in his DNA, in his makeup.”
He continued: “It’s frightening to have someone in the office of the president in 2018 speaking the way that he’s speaking. We’ve come too far, made too much progress to go back, to fan the flames of racism and bigotry.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Friday that he heard Trump repeatedly refer to African countries as “shitholes” at a meeting they both attended the day before.
Trump said “things which were hate-filled, vile and racist,” Durbin told reporters.
“The most disheartening thing to me is my belief that that was the first time words that hateful had been spoken in the Oval Office of the White House,” Durbin added. “I think back at presidents throughout history and I cannot imagine a moment where a president sunk to that depth. That’s what breaks my heart.”
Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., said they “do not recall” the comments by Trump but noted “he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed outrage over Trump’s remarks.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote in a tweet that the president’s comments “could hurt” bipartisan immigration reform efforts, while Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said respecting the dignity of others “is the essence of American patriotism.”
“People from everywhere have made American great. Our immigration policy should reflect that truth, and our elected officials, including our President, should respect it,” he added.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., tweeted that the comments were “abhorrent and repulsive,” while Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called the comments “appalling.”
“It’s not enough to just respond with anger,” Sanders wrote on Twitter. “We have to build a political movement in this country which says that that is not who we are and we will not tolerate that type of moral inadequacy.”
“The president’s expressed desire to see more immigrants from countries like Norway must be called out for what it is: an effort to set this country back generations by promoting a homogenous, white society,” Sen. Diane Feinstein, D.-Calif., said in a statement.
Not everyone jumped to condemn the president, however.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., offered muted pushback, saying the reported remarks were “very unfortunate.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., was at the meeting, but said he would exclusively focus on reaching a deal for the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.
“Nothing will divert my focus to stop the deportation of these innocent people whose futures are at stake,” he said in a statement to NBC News.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told the president to “hang in there” in a tweet. King is a hard-liner on immigration and has been accused of racism for his own controversial remarks.
Durbin gave a detailed rundown of the bipartisan meeting on immigration and recounted the president’s comments during the discussion.
Lawmakers were speaking about immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti who have a temporary protected status in the U.S. due to disasters and political upheaval in their home countries when the president interjected, according to Durbin.
“He said, ‘Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?’ And then he went on when we started to describe the immigration from Africa that was being protected in this bipartisan measure. That’s when he used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from ‘shitholes,'” Durbin said. “The exact word used by the president, not just once, but repeatedly.”
Durbin said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., confronted the president when he used the slur.
Durbin said Graham “spoke up and made a direct comment on what the president said.”
“I was very proud of him,” Durbin said of Graham. “It took courage for what he did.”
Durbin said he told the president that excluding Haitians from the group of temporary protected immigrants would lead to an “obvious” conclusion.
“These are black people. These are folks who bring a different aspect to temporary protected status than those who are from Central American countries. He knew it and we all knew it,” Durbin said.
The president tweeted repeatedly on Friday morning about the meeting, acknowledging using “tough” language but denying making critical comments about Haitians.
“Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings — unfortunately, no trust!” he wrote in a post.
Haiti’s U.S. Ambassador Paul Altidor said in an interview on MSNBC that he was “dismayed” and disappointed to hear the president’s alleged remark, and said has not heard from the White House or State Department about it.
“300,000 people lost their lives on this very day I’m sitting here,” Altidor said, pointing to the devastating earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010. “Unfortunately, we are here talking about regretful, regrettable comments allegedly made the president of the United States.”
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