There were only seven lawmakers in the room when President Donald Trump reportedly referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries.” Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was one of them.
Did the Miami Republican hear the words himself? Did he challenge the president’s comment? He refuses to say, even after the lone Democrat in the room said Friday that Trump had “said hateful things, and he said them repeatedly.”
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In a statement, Diaz-Balart merely confirmed that he was at the White House meeting on Thursday, but he did not back up Trump’s Twitter denial of the “shithole” comment, or the claim made by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who said Friday that Trump had said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
“For months, I have been involved in numerous high level bipartisan meetings negotiating DACA, including Thursday’s meeting at the White House,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement. “There are almost 800,000 young DACA beneficiaries who will face imminent deportation in March if we do not reach a deal. I will not be diverted from all possible efforts to continue negotiating to stop the deportations. Nothing will divert my focus to stop the deportation of these innocent people whose futures are at stake.”
Diaz-Balart left Washington, D.C., on Thursday after his meeting with Trump. A Miami Herald reporter unsuccessfully attempted on Friday to find Diaz-Balart at his office in Doral, located across the street from the Trump Doral resort.
Trump’s reported comments caused an uproar in Miami, home to the nation’s largest concentration of Haitian Americans.
“The president calling Haiti a ‘shithole country’ ignores the contributions thousands of Haitians have made to our SoFla community and nation,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “Language like that shouldn't be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn't be heard in the White House.”
After the White House initially did not deny the “shithole” comment, which was first reported by the Washington Post, Trump took to Twitter on Friday morning to offer his version of events.
“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!”
CNN anchor Jake Tapper offered a version of events based on a “source familiar with the meeting” that said Trump did not refer to Haiti as a “shithole” country when discussing Temporary Protected Status for Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras. Instead, he said “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out?” meaning that Haitians affected by the decision to end TPS should not be part of any immigration deal.
Then, in a separate part of the conversation related to the diversity visa lottery, Trump referred to people coming from African countries as coming from “shithole countries.”
But the president also denied Tapper’s version of events in a later tweet.
“Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings — unfortunately, no trust!”
Diaz-Balart declined to elaborate about the Thursday meeting with Trump despite mounting pressure to condemn the president’s alleged statements. In an interview with Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS4, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, suggested Diaz-Balart was “tacitly sanctioning the remarks” by not speaking out.
Diaz-Balart, a longtime Republican advocate of overhauling the nation’s immigration system, was heartened by a different immigration meeting earlier this week where Trump talked with Democrats and Republicans as the cameras rolled.
“We've been discussing these issues for a long, long time and this is one of the most productive meetings I've been to,” Diaz-Balart said. “Particularly when you're talking about a large group like that, diverse and everything else. I think the president set the tone and I think it was exceedingly productive.”
Congress has until March to find a solution for 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents known as Dreamers before Trump cancels an Obama-era executive order known as DACA that has allowed Dreamers to be protected from deportation.