President Donald Trump on Monday claimed Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin "totally misrepresented" comments during an Oval Office meeting last week, where sources said Trump used vulgar and demeaning language to describe immigrants from Africa.
"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," Trump tweeted.
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 15, 2018
Behind the discrepancy: A senior GOP source familiar with the matter told CNN that instead of hearing the President say "shithole," some Republicans heard Trump say "shithouse."
Two Trump allies came out publicly on Sunday to dispute that Trump decried immigrants coming from "shithole countries" and sought to cast doubt on Durbin's public account of the meeting.
Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue said Sunday that there had been a "gross misinterpretation" of Trump's remarks in a private meeting, where sources told CNN Trump made the demeaning and dismissive comment about immigrants from Haiti and Africa and added that the US should get more people from countries like Norway, a predominantly white and wealthy nation.
"I'm telling you he did not use that word, George, and I'm telling you it's a gross misrepresentation," Perdue told moderator George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week."
Perdue and Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton said in a Friday statement that they did not recall the "shithole" comment, and Cotton on Sunday also accused Durbin of misrepresenting Trump's comments.
"I didn't hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was," Cotton said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Speaking to reporters Monday, Durbin said, "I don't know that changing the word from 'hole' to 'house' changes the impact," according to video posted by a WBEZ reporter.
Asked about the initial Washington Post report on Trump's "shithole" remark, the White House issued a statement that did not deny Trump made the comment. The following day, Trump tweeted "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used."
A White House official told CNN on Thursday the President's "shithole" remark was being received much differently inside of the White House than it is outside. The official said that although this might enrage Washington, staffers predicted the comment would resonate with Trump's base, similarly to how Trump's attacks on NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem did.
The Trump administration late last year announced it would end the Temporary Protected Status designation for Haiti, a move that could affect tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security last week announced it would end protections more than 200,000 Salvadorans, and later in the week, the White House rejected a bipartisan immigration proposal, including a fix for people protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
A person familiar with the meeting said Durbin and South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham brought a plan to Trump that involved cutting the visa lottery in half and, at the behest of the Congressional Black Caucus, the rest would go to underrepresented countries in Africa and Temporary Protected Status nations, including Haiti. The person said the language was salty on both sides.
One person briefed on the meeting said when Durbin got to Haiti, Trump began to ask why we want people from Haiti and more Africans in the US and added that the US should get more people from countries like Norway.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott told The Post and Courier that Graham, who was at the meeting, told him the reported comments are "basically accurate," and Graham told the paper Monday that his "memory hasn't evolved."
"I know what was said, and I know what I said," Graham said.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Monday that he went to a meeting directly following the Oval Office meeting, but before news of the comments went public.
"I can just say what was described in the meeting I had was identical to what was reported later in the news," Flake said.