WASHINGTON — Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, says President Trump used the words.
Republican Sens. David Perdue or Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, in the same Oval Office meeting Thursday with Durbin and Trump, say they don't remember the president using the words.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also there, didn't deny Trump used the words.
And another attendee, Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., simply refuses to say one way or another.
The words in question are "shithole countries," which Durbin confirmed were used by Trump during a discussion on immigration Thursday.
According to Durbin, Trump had told a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the White House that he'd rather have more immigrants from Norway and fewer from "shithole countries" in Africa and said the U.S. didn't need anymore people from Haiti. to describe Haiti and African nations where some immigrants to the United States come from."I have seen the comments in the press, I have not read one of them that's inaccurate," Durbin, a Democrat, told reporters in Chicago.
"In the course of (Trump's) comments, he said things that were hate-filled, vile and racist," the Illinois senator said Friday. "l use those words advisingly, I understand how powerful they are. I cannot believe that in the history of the White House and that Oval Office any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday."
In a statement later Friday Durbin elaborated: "He used those words, and he used them repeatedly."
"We do not recall the President saying these comments specifically but what he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest," Perdue and Cotton said in a statement.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., was also in attendance. Diaz-Balart has been advocating for protections for the DACA population. He would not confirm or deny that the president had made the comments.
"There are almost 800,000 young DACA beneficiaries who will face imminent deportation in March if we do not reach a deal," Diaz-Balart said in reponse to a request for confirmation of Trump's comments. "I will not be diverted from all possible efforts to continue negotiating to stop the deportations."
Graham said in a release Friday that after Trump's comments at the meeting, "I said my piece directly to him ... The President and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel I've always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals."
"The American people will ultimately judge us on the outcome we achieve, not the process which led to it," Graham said.
Earlier, fellow South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott said Graham told him that the reports of Trump using the crude words are “basically accurate."
Requests for confirmation of Trump's comments sent to all other offices whose members attended the meeting were not immediately answered.
The Washington Post reported Trump's comments Thursday.
On Friday, Trump denied using the language, about Haiti, and tried to turn the conversation to Democrats.
"The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used," Trump tweeted. "What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!"
DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is the law that gave residency status to people who were brought to the country illegally. Trump and Congress are trying to resolve it after Trump ended the Obama-era program.
Shortly after, he tweeted "Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country."
Durbin and Graham are part of a bi-partisan group of six senators who announced Thursday the framework of a compromise on immigration. The legislation would provide a pathway to citizenship for so-called DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, but would also incorporate other border and internal security provisions to try to appease Republicans.
Durbin and Graham joined other lawmakers who had been working on immigration legislation of their own at the White House Thursday. The president did not support their plan but the “Gang of Six” said they were planning to promote it to colleagues in the Senate to get more support.
"I think that will matter to the president,” Graham told reporters after the meeting Thursday. Trump is “very aware” you can’t fix this problem without the Democrats, Graham added.
"Our deal is a genuine compromise — it addresses all the areas outlined by the President and represents honest concessions on both sides," Durbin said in the statement. "The president and others trying to derail a bipartisan deal do not have an alternative that can earn bipartisan support ... Our bipartisan group continues to build support for the only deal in town."
Another lawmaker present at the White House meeting, GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, had been pushing for stronger immigration enforcement and a less generous package for the DREAMers. Goodlatte’s bill, introduced in the House Wednesday, also would lower overall immigration levels by 25%. Cotton and Perdue were also pushing for lowered levels of legal immigration.
Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who is running to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, defended Trump's comments.
“I’m partnering with the president. I’m the one right now working with the administration to get things done,” she said Friday after announcing her Senate candidacy. McSally is a co-sponsor of Goodlatte's immigration bill.
“I speak a little salty behind closed doors at times as well, so I’m not going to throw the first stone on using any language,” McSally said of Trump’s alleged comment. “Look, the issue he was trying to get to is we’ve got to reform our immigration system.”
Immigration legislation has become time-sensitive because when Trump ended DACA in September he gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative solution before announcing that deportations would begin. There is bi-partisan support for some form of protection, but just how much and what immigration enforcements need to be added in exchange is what’s being negotiated now.
For any bill to pass the Senate will require some support from Democrats. That's because 60 votes will be needed to avoid a filibuster and Republicans have a narrow 51-49 majority. In the House, Republicans have enough members to pass GOP-only legislation but the party’s far-right wing has a lengthy list of demands that could make moderate members squeamish.
Most Republicans steered clear of the comments, but a few weighed in to express disappointment.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was asked about the comments during a luncheon presented by WisPolitics in Milwaukee, Wis.
"I read those comments later last night. So the first thing that came to my mind was, very unfortunate, very unhelpful. But you know what I thought of right away? I thought of my own family," he said.
Utah Rep. Mia Love, who is a Haitian American said the comments were “unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values.”