Top Republicans and administration officials dodged questions about whether President Donald Trump used the word “shithole” to describe Haiti and African countries during a meeting with top senators about immigration earlier this week.
Trump has denied that he used that specific word in the meeting, which was first reported by The Washington Post, and then confirmed by other outlets.
But during interviews on the Sunday political talk shows, administration officials and Republicans who attended the meeting denied knowing whether the phrase was used.
During an interview on Sunday, Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace said he did not believe Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s claim that she didn’t remember Trump “using that exact phrase.”
“I can understand you either saying they were said or they were not said,” Wallace said. “It is pretty shocking language, and to say I do not recall seems implausible. If the President of the United States used the word “blank-hole” talking about countries in the Oval Office, or didn’t say it, I would know.”
“I understand the question,” Nielsen replied. “It was an impassioned conversation. I don’t recall that specific phrase being used, that’s all I can say about that.”
Other Republicans attempted to discredit the claim by criticizing Sen. Dick Durbin, who attended the meeting and said Trump described Haiti and countries in Africa as “shithole countries.”
Though Sen. David Purdue, a Georgia Republican, said on Friday that he could not recall Trump’s characterization, he repeatedly dismissed questions about whether Trump used the description, saying Trump “did not use that word.”
Purdue also blasted the Illinois Democrat, pointing out that Durbin likely mischaracterized comments a House Republican made to President Barack Obama in 2013.
“This is a gross misrepresentation, it’s not the first time Senator Durbin has done it, and it is not productive to solving the problem that we have at hand,” Purdue told ABC on Sunday.
In an interview on “Face the Nation,” Sen. Tom Cotton also said he didn’t hear Trump’s comments, and criticized Durbin — though when pressed by “CBS This Morning” host John Dickerson, the Arkansas senator confusingly refused to answer whether Durbin was lying.
“I didn’t hear that word either, I certainly didn’t hear what Senator Durbin has said repeatedly,” Cotton said. “Senator Durbin has a history of misrepresenting what happens in White House meetings, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by that.”
Top Democrats expressed outrage over Republicans’ characterization of Durbin.
In a tweet on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer praised the Illinois senator.
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
Further, other Republicans have backed the reporting and Durbin’s claim that Trump made the “shithole” comments.
Speaking to ABC shortly after Purdue’s interview, Sen. Jeff Flake said he heard directly from people who attended the meeting that Trump did call several countries a “shithole.”
“They said those words were used before those words went public,” Flake said. “So that’s all I can tell you is I heard that account before the account even went public.”