A high-stakes White House immigration meeting has devolved into a debate on whether President Donald Trump used the terms “shithole” or “shithouse” to refer to immigrants, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart isn’t offering his version of the meeting, even though he was in the room.
Two senators in the meeting, one Democrat and one Republican, said Trump used the profane language. Two other Republican senators in the meeting now say he didn’t utter “shit” in any form after initially saying they didn’t recall. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was also in the meeting, isn’t sure.
But Diaz-Balart hasn’t said whether he sides with Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who say Trump used disparaging language, or Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., who said they didn’t hear it.
The Miami Republican has not confirmed or denied either of the accounts, even after Cotton and Perdue shifted their story on Sunday. Two Diaz-Balart staffers did not respond to questions on Monday and the congressman’s Washington and Doral offices were closed for Martin Luther King Day. It isn’t clear if Diaz-Balart challenged Trump in the meeting on his language towards immigrants.
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Diaz-Balart spoke with WPLG Local 10 on Monday, though he didn’t comment on the specifics of last Thursday’s meeting.
“Have I been in meetings where colorful things were said? Absolutely,” Diaz-Balart said. “This is a President that said things differently than clearly I would say them. I will not comment on what may or may not have been said. I’m the only person from our community that has a seat at this table and I’m going to use that seat not to criticize, not to point fingers, [but] to try to stop the imminent deportation of about 800,000 young people.”
Diaz-Balart confirmed he was at the White House in a statement on Friday and a spokesperson told Miami Herald news partner CBS 4 on Sunday that he doesn’t comment on private meetings.
“First of all, in his three decades of public service, Congressman Diaz-Balart has NEVER repeated, stated, or leaked what is said in private meetings,” a spokesperson said to CBS 4. “Secondly, he remains focused on the fact that in March, some 800,000 young people face deportation, and he continues to work on a bipartisan deal so that won’t happen. And finally Congressman Diaz-Balart fights and stands up for his community every single day, and his record in doing so is clear.”
Two other lawmakers in the meeting, Reps. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., have not commented.
Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said Monday that something derogatory was said in the meeting between Trump and the lawmakers last Thursday, though he can’t confirm specifics.
“I don’t know exactly what was said in that meeting because I wasn’t there, but certainly something derogatory, something that dehumanized people, was said and that’s a shame,” Curbelo said on CNN. “This is a shame, it was a setback and the only thing more important than discussing this issue is reaching a compromise on immigration that takes care of, at least, the 800,000 DACA recipients who are at risk.”
Trump has flatly denied making derogatory comments about immigrants.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump tweeted. “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!”
Trump also used Cotton and Perdue, who said “he did not use that word,” to bolster his own defense.
“Did you see what various senators in the room said about my comments?” Trump said. “They weren’t made.”
When asked by a reporter on Monday, Graham defended his original account of the meeting despite Cotton and Perdue’s unequivocal assertion on Sunday that Trump did not use the disparaging words.
“My memory hasn’t evolved,” Graham told the Charleston Post and Courier. “I know what was said and I know what I said.”
Congress has until March to find a solution for about 800,000 immigrants known as Dreamers who came to the country illegally as young children. Diaz-Balart also participated in a public White House immigration meeting last Tuesday that he said was “one of the most productive meetings I’ve been to.”
“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 last week. “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.”
It’s unclear if he feels the same way now.