CHICAGO (CBS) — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is standing by his account of the now infamous meeting with President Donald Trump, in which the president allegedly made vulgar and racist comments while discussing immigration.
Trump has said he’s not a racist, and insisted he ever used the term “s***hole countries” to describe places like Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations in a private Oval Office meeting with several senators, including Durbin.
Monday morning, Durbin responded to charges from Republican senators that he lied about what the president said.
“I know what happened. I stand behind every word that I said in terms of that meeting,” Durbin said.
The senator also suggested, if the White House has a recording of the meeting, it should be released to the public.
“I don’t know if there was some other recording device that was being used within the Oval Office. If there was, I just want to call on the White House right now, release whatever you have. If they don’t have it, so be it,” Durbin said.
Durbin and other senators met with Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday to discuss legislation to protect young immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation.
Sources revealed, during the meeting, Trump referred to places like Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations as “s***hole countries.” Durbin backed up those claims on Friday, and said the president used that phrase multiple times, calling the president’s words “hate-filled, vile, and racist.”
“You’ve seen the comments in the press. I’ve not seen one of them that’s inaccurate. To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning denying that he used those words. It is not true. He said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly,” he said.
U.S. Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who was in the meeting but originally said he didn’t remember Trump using those words, later insisted trump never used the phrase “s***hole countries,” and called Durbin’s account of the meeting a “gross misrepresentation.”
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who also was in the meeting, also initially claimed not to remember the president making the vulgar statement, but has since said he didn’t hear Trump use those words, and claimed Durbin “has a history of misrepresenting” private meetings.
The Washington Post has since reported Cotton and Perdue heard the words “s***house,” and that was the basis for denying Durbin’s claim.
Durbin said the neither word is acceptable from the president.
“I am stunned that this is their defense. That’s their choice,” Durbin said. “I don’t know that changing the word from hole to house changes the impact which this has. This speaks to America and its view toward immigration. It is a message to the world, and a message which I think is inconsistent with the values of this country. I don’t believe a majority of Americans agree with the president, whichever word is used.”
Some also have criticized Durbin for revealing details of a private meeting with the president, but Durbin said he felt compelled to do so when Trump denied using the phrase after the vulgarity was first reported.
“What the president said in that meeting was so awful and so impactful on so many people, that when he denied saying it, I felt duty-bound to clarify what actually happened,” Durbin said.
The president has repeatedly insisted he did not use those words, and is not a racist.
“Did you see what various senators in the room said about my comments? They weren’t made,” Trump said Sunday. “No, I’m not racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you.”
Durbin, Cotton, and Perdue were in an Oval Office meeting with four other senators to discuss a bipartisan effort to protect immigrants who have participated in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, while increasing border security.
During that meeting, Durbin said he and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham had suggested cutting back on the number of people participating in the visa lottery program, when the president began to complain about the U.S. taking immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries.
Sources said Trump suggested accepting “more people from places like Norway.”
“Why are we having all these people from s***hole countries come here?” Trump said, according to the source.
Durbin called the president’s use of the phrase “a heart-breaking moment.”
“The most disheartening thing to me is my belief that that was the first time words that hateful have been spoken in the Oval Office of the White House. I think back of presidents throughout history, and I cannot imagine a moment where a president sunk to that depth. That’s what breaks my heart.”
Durbin said Graham confronted Trump for his use of the phrase, an account Graham later confirmed.
“Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday (Thursday). The President and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel,” Graham said.