Democrats were quick to denounce President Donald Trump after reports that he referred to Haiti and some African nations as “shithole countries” while discussing immigration reform with lawmakers at the White House.
But by Friday morning, long after Trump reportedly asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here,” most GOP lawmakers had still not said anything publicly about the president’s racially charged remark. He was said to have made the comment when lawmakers pressed to restore protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and multiple African nations.
In a series of early morning tweets, Trump denied using such language, while continuing to denigrate some nations. But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) ― who was in the room at the time ― swiftly contradicted him, saying that the president had in fact “said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly.”
Under the immigration plan being discussed, the U.S. “would be forced to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly,” Trump tweeted. He added that “language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.”
At least one GOP congressman even used the moment to attack Democrats. “The rhetoric coming from leaders in both parties does nothing to advance the kind of reforms that are best for America,” Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) tweeted on Thursday, without specifying what was said by Democrats that was as offensive as Trump’s remarks. HuffPost’s requests for comment from Davis’ office were not returned.
Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), who both attended Thursday’s meeting, said in a joint statement Friday that they didn’t recall Trump “saying these comments specifically.”
“What he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest,” they said.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — who also attended the meeting — confirmed that reporting of Trump’s remarks was “basically accurate.”
“We ought not to disparage any other nation, frankly,” Scott told The Post and Courier newspaper on Friday. “Thinking about the success of America. It is the melting pot. It’s the ability to weave together multiple communities together for one nation.”
Here are the other Republicans who spoke out against Trump for his reported remark:
Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah)
Rep. Mia Love was one of the first Republicans in Congress to issue an official statement demanding the president apologize. Love made history in 2014, when she became the first Haitian-American woman and first black Republican woman elected to Congress.
“This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation,” Love, whose parents immigrated from Haiti to the U.S., said in a statement Thursday.
“My parents came from one of those countries but proudly took the oath of allegiance to the United States and took on the responsibilities of everything that being a citizen comes with,” she added. “They never took a thing from our federal government.”
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.)
Rep. Carlos Curbelo took a softer approach, tweeting his support for individuals under temporary protected status and asking the White House to explain the context behind Trump’s comment.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen took to her local media to air frustrations with Trump’s comments. She tweeted: “The president calling #Haiti a ‘shithole country’ ignores the contributions thousands of Haitians made to our #SoFla community and nation.”
She later told CBS Miami that “no country deserves to be called a ’shithole.” Speaking to WSVN 7 news, Ros-Lehtinen said that Trump “needs to understand that lives are at stake when he makes such reckless comments.” According to her tweets, she invoked an inscription on the Statue of Liberty: ”‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ not ‘go back to your shithole.’”
She told Univision 23 Miami, a Spanish-language news channel, that Trump’s comments on Haiti “do not reflect our country.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
Without denouncing Trump’s insult, Sen. Orrin Hatch called for the White House to explain what Trump meant with his remark.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.)
Rep. Mike Coffman issued a statement late Thursday celebrating the accomplishments of Colorado’s diverse immigrant communities, “from El Salvador to Ethiopia.”
“The President could learn a thing or two from them,” Coffman said.
Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.)
Rep. Erik Paulsen called Trump’s remarks “completely inappropriate” and said the White House should issue an apology.
The White House didn’t deny Trump’s remark. Instead, the administration said in a statement that Trump is focused on “American people.”
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement, according to CBS News.
The president “will always reject temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that threaten the lives of hardworking Americans, and undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway,” Shah added.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
Sen. Jeff Flake on Friday tweeted his displeasure with Trump’s choice of words.
Though the president may have been trying to be “tough,” his comment was instead “abhorrent and repulsive,” Flake said.
Former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele
Michael Steele, a conservative pundit who frequently appears on cable news, harshly rebuked Trump on Friday, saying the “evidence is incontrovertible” that the president is racist.
“There are a whole lot of folks like Donald Trump,” Steele said on MSNBC. “White folks in this country who have a problem with the browning of America. When they talk about [wanting] their country back, they are talking about a country that was very safely white, less brown and less committed to that browning process.”
This article has been updated to include additional Republicans commenting on Trump’s remarks, and Durbin’s assertion that Trump used those specific words.
CORRECTION: A previous version referred to Rep. Mia Love as the first black Republican in Congress. She is the first black Republican woman in Congress.