Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade County had never denounced a U.S. president. Then came Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump AP

Calling his remarks on Haiti “shameful” and a new low, Miami-Dade commissioners, including a Republican congressional candidate, unanimously denounced President Donald Trump’s reported slander of a country with close ties to South Florida.

“This country owes a whole lot more to Haiti than the president ever imagined,” said Jean Monestime, the county’s first Haitian-American commissioner and a former chairman of the county board. He sponsored Tuesday’s resolution to condemn what he called the “shameful comments” Trump reportedly made in an Oval Office meeting, describing Haiti and other developing nations as “shithole countries.”

The Jan. 12 remarks, confirmed by some participants, set off an instant round of condemnation from Miami-Dade officials, including Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican. A formal county denunciation arrived Tuesday, when the 13-member commission met for the first time since the storm.

Though commission proclamations routinely address national and global issues, veterans of the chamber said that they could not remember a time when the commission voted to denounce what a sitting U.S. president had said. “I’ve never heard of that,” said Commissioner Joe Martinez, a former commission chairman and a Republican. “And a lot of them had screwed up.” Harvey Ruvin, Miami-Dade’s elected clerk and a former commissioner of what was then Dade County, agreed.

“There’s never been a situation anything near like this,” said Ruvin, a Democrat and Miami-Dade’s longest serving elected official. “There maybe was stuff on policy, but not directly condemning a president [for his remarks]. That goes back to 1972 for me.”

The resolution does not use the word “shithole,” but described “disparaging” remarks by Trump about Haiti and other countries on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that ravaged the island nation. The resolution also notes that Trump asked why the United States didn’t allow more immigrants from countries like Norway and fewer from countries like Haiti, El Salvador and nations in Africa. Monestime’s resolution said the statements “defy the ideals that this country stands on — diversity, equality and inclusion.”

Trump reportedly made the remarks during a debate over special immigration status granted to people from countries suffering extreme hardship, including Haiti after the earthquake and El Salvador following a 2001 earthquake there.

In a Jan. 12 tweet, Trump said he was misquoted. “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country,” the Twitter posting said. “Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings — unfortunately, no trust!”

This was actually Trump’s second official condemnation from the Miami-Dade commission for something he said. The first came days after he announced his presidential bid in 2015, when the commission voted to denounce his comments on immigrants from Mexico entering the United States illegally. Trump said rapists and other criminals were crossing the border; the commission, meeting 15 miles from the Trump Doral resort, unanimously voted to send him a certified resolution calling the remarks “racist.”

jean monestime
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime MARSHA HALPER MIAMI HERALD STAFF

At the time, Trump was a long-shot presidential contender and a local hotelier who had just been rebuffed in his bid to take over Miami-Dade’s Crandon golf course. On Tuesday, the commissioners voted 9-0 to condemn remarks by the sitting president in the Oval Office.

A spokesman said that Gimenez, who sat on the commission dais for the discussion but did not weigh in, supported the resolution. Three of the six Republicans on the commission — District 27 congressional candidate Bruno Barreiro, Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Rebeca Sosa — were there for the vote. Two others, Martinez and Javier Souto, stepped away from the dais when the anti-Trump item came up on the agenda, while Jose “Pepe” Diaz missed the meeting altogether.

“This is a community that’s majority immigrant,” said Barreiro, the only commissioner to appear at local rallies for Trump in 2016 after favorite sons Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio dropped out of the primaries. He’s now running to succeed fellow Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in her left-leaning district. “We have to stand for immigrants. It’s important.”

While the president has denied using the language, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, said publicly that he did. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has reportedly confirmed it privately and came close to confirming it publicly. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who attended the Oval Office meeting, has refused to confirm or deny what Trump said.

Miami-Dade commissioners represent a county that Hillary Clinton won by 30 points, but district voters have sent an even mix of Republicans and Democrats to the 13-member board, which has one independent. Commission seats are chosen through nonpartisan primaries.

Before the vote, nobody on the board defended Trump.

“The president’s words hurt,” Bovo said. “They’re bothersome. And they’re inappropriate.”

Commissioner Barbara Jordan, a Democrat, cited Michelle Obama’s 2016 convention speech “on going high” in the face of partisan attacks in saying she would hold her tongue to a degree. “God, please help me from going low,” Jordan said. “How we have been admired across the world is being diminished almost every day. I hope that we’ve reached the point where we can’t get any lower.”

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