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Trump goes after Sen. Durbin

Profile image for Darlene Superville
Darlene Superville, Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- President Donald Trump turned his Twitter torment Monday on the Democrat in the room where immigration talks with lawmakers took a famously coarse turn, saying Sen. Dick Durbin misrepresented what he had said about African nations and Haiti and, in the process, undermined the trust needed to make a deal.

On a day of remembrance for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Trump spent time at his golf course with no public events, bypassing the acts of service that his predecessor staged in honor of the civil rights leader on the holiday. Instead Trump dedicated his weekly address to King's memory, saying King's dream and America's are the same: "a world where people are judged by who they are, not how they look or where they come from."

That message was a distinct counterpoint to words attributed to Trump by Durbin and others at a meeting last week, when the question of where immigrants come from seemed at the forefront of Trump's concerns. Some participants and others familiar with the conversation said Trump challenged immigration from "shithole" countries of Africa and disparaged Haiti as well.

Without explicitly denying using that word, Trump lashed out at the Democratic senator, who said Trump uttered it on several occasions.

"Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting," Trump tweeted, using a nickname to needle the Illinois senator. "Deals can't get made when there is no trust! Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military."

He was referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children. Members of Congress from both parties are trying to strike a deal that Trump would support to extend that protection.

Durbin said Monday the White House should release whatever recording it might have of the meeting.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the six senators in the meeting with Trump on Thursday, supported Durbin's account. As well, Durbin and people who were briefed on the conversation but were not authorized to describe it publicly said Trump also questioned the need to admit more Haitians. They said Trump expressed a preference for immigrants from countries like Norway, which is overwhelmingly white.

Republican Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who also attended, initially said they did not hear Trump utter the word in question, then revised their account to deny he said it at all. Trump said Sunday: "I'm not a racist."

Durbin addressed reports that Trump might have said countries of Africa were "shithouse" nations instead of "shithole" ones -- and that such a distinction might have given Trump's defenders a narrow out to dispute reports of the meeting.

"I am stunned that this is their defense," he told WBEZ. "I don't know that changing the word from 'hole' to 'house' changes the impact."

The reverberations kept coming Monday.

Martin Luther King III, King's elder son, said: "When a president insists that our nation needs more citizens from white states like Norway, I don't even think we need to spend any time even talking about what it says and what it is."

He added, "We got to find a way to work on this man's heart."

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence, who worshipped at a Baptist church in Maryland, listened as the pastor denounced Trump's use of vulgarity.

Maurice Watson, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Largo, called the reported remark "dehumanizing" and "ugly" and said "whoever made such a statement ... is wrong and they ought to be held accountable." Worshippers stood and applauded as Watson spoke.

Durbin said after the Oval Office meeting that Trump's words to the senators were "vile, hate-filled and clearly racial in their content."

A confidant of Trump told The Associated Press that the president spent Thursday evening calling friends and outside advisers to judge their reaction to his remarks.

Trump wasn't apologetic and denied he was racist, said the confidant, who wasn't authorized to disclose a private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

FEATURED PHOTO: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump return to the White House following a weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago, on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/AP)