Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) defended his deputy, Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), on Sunday after critics questioned Durbin’s claim that President Donald Trump had referred to “shithole countries” in a discussion about immigration in the Oval Office on Thursday.
Sen. David Purdue (R-GA), who was at the meeting, told ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos that Durbin’s account of events was a “gross misrepresentation,” adding that it was “not the first time we’ve had a gross misrepresentation by that individual.”
The gross misrepresentation was that language was used in there that was not used, and also that the tone of that meeting was not contributory and not constructive. In 2013, Senator Durbin also made the same accusation against a Republican leader in a meeting with President Obama, and said that he chewed out the president, and was so disrepsectful to President Obama we couldn’t even have the meeting. That’s what he said in 2013. Later that day, the president’s own press secretary came out and said, and I quote: “It did not happen.” This is about a gross misrepresentation. It’s not the first time.
Apparently in response, Schumer tweeted: “To impugn @SenatorDurbin’s integrity is disgraceful. Whether you agree with him on the issues or not, he is one of the most honorable members of the Senate.”
To impugn @SenatorDurbin‘s integrity is disgraceful. Whether you agree with him on the issues or not, he is one of the most honorable members of the Senate.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 14, 2018
On Thursday, the White House was slow to deny that President Trump had used the term “shithole countries.” On Friday, President Donald Trump denied using the term, though he acknowledged using “tough” language. CNN reported on Saturday that Trump had taken a “victory lap” by calling friends and advisers to gauge the effect of the “shithole countries” remark, but did not quote him actually admitting that he had used the term.
Thus far, the only person actually in the meeting who has claimed publicly that Trump made that specific remark is Sen. Durbin.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who collaborated with Durbin on a bipartisan proposal to legalize the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — one the president reportedly rejected in the meeting — issued a statement Thursday that was widely taken as corroborating Durbin’s claims.
Graham — who referred to countries from which illegal aliens were fleeing as “hellholes” at a Senate hearing in 2013 — said Thursday: “Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday. The President and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel.”
Notably, Graham did not actually repeat Durbin’s incendiary claims, but rather that he “appreciate[d] Senator Durbin’s statements.” However, the media interpreted that as a confirmation of Trump’s alleged comments.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) told the media that Graham had privately confirmed the Washington Post‘s original account of Trump’s “shithole countries” remark. However, Graham himself has not confirmed the remark publicly.
Two other Senators in that meeting, Purdue and Tom Cotton (R-AR), disputed Durbin’s account at the time. Purdue reiterated on This Week Sunday morning that Trump had not used the phrase “shithole countries” in the meeting.
Likewise, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Fox News Sunday that she did not remember Trump saying that — though she noted that the negotiation had been “an impassioned conversation,” corroborating Trump’s defense.
In his comments to Stephanopoulos on Sunday, Purdue was referring to an event in 2013 when, during bipartisan negotiations to avert a government shutdown, Durbin claimed that a Republican leader had told President Barack Obama, “I cannot even stand to look at you.” The claim was refuted by those present, and even by then-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
On Thursday, in addition to claiming that Trump had said the phrase “shithole countries” several times, Durbin decreed that the phrase “chain migration” — one that he himself has used several times — was racist because it somehow evoked the chains of slavery. That suggested to critics that Durbin was, at the very least, exaggerating.