WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday denied using certain "language" during a private meeting with lawmakers as fury spread over his comments about immigrants, but one of the Senators in the room, Dick Durbin of Illinois, says he knows what he heard.
"He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly," Durbin said,
Durbin added, "When the question was asked about Haitians ... he said, 'Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?'"
Durbin is a Democrat, but several Republican Senators also took umbrage with the president's language.
Republican Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who attended the meeting, said in a statement that they "do not recall the president saying these comments specifically." What Trump did do, they said, was "call out the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest."
But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), whom Durbin said had voiced objection to Trump's comments during the meeting, issued a statement that did not dispute the remarks.
"Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday. The President and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel," he said, adding: "I've always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals."
Trump's comments came during an Oval Office meeting where he questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and "shithole countries" in Africa as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to one participant and people briefed on the extraordinary Oval Office conversation.
"The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used," Trump insisted in a series of Friday morning tweets. "What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA."
Trump's contemptuous blanket description of African countries startled lawmakers in the meeting and immediately revived charges that the president is racist.
Florida GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Trump's comments were "completely unacceptable," telling WPLG-TV in Miami that "if that's not racism, I don't know how you can define it."
"The words used by the president, as related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance, were not 'tough,' they were abhorrent and repulsive," tweeted Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.
"I think it was stupid and irresponsible and childish," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. "He's president of the United States. That's not how a president behaves."
House Speaker Paul Ryan said the vulgar language was "very unfortunate, unhelpful."