Op-Ed

Speak out, Rep. Diaz-Balart — Trump insulted a bunch of your constituents

Miami U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has been mum after President Trump’s vulgar remarks about Haiti, El Salvador and African countries.
Miami U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has been mum after President Trump’s vulgar remarks about Haiti, El Salvador and African countries. apps.frontline.org

The silence from Mario Diaz-Balart is deafening. He was at the White House last Thursday but has yet to make any comment about President Trump’s vile and vulgar remarks — made “repeatedly” according to Sen. Richard Durbin — about “shithole countries.” Trump would be happy, however, to accept immigrants from Norway, among the whitest countries in the world.

The president directed his ire and bilge at African countries and El Salvador, home to black and brown people. Haiti, too, appears on the president’s no-no list: “Why do we need more Haitians?” the president supposedly asked when Temporary Protected Status for Haitians came up. “Take them out.”

It’s insulting, but not surprising. This is the same man who went to Little Haiti in September 2016 and promised Haitians he would “be their champion.”

Champion in public, bigot in private.

It is especially appalling that the president made his comments on the eighth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti and killed 300,000 people. And from which it has never fully recovered. Yet the president decided not to extend TPS for 58,000 Haitians, most of whom live in South Florida. Surely a few live in the 25th Congressional District — west Miami-Dade to nearly Naples — which is represented by Rep. Diaz-Balart. You can be sure those Haitian-Americans are hurt and insulted by the president’s remarks.

I’d bet that many Hispanics who live in that district also feel insulted It is home to 580,988 Hispanics, according to the U.S. Census, More than half are Cuban. But 175,302 other Hispanics also live in Diaz-Balart’s district, and you can bet that several thousand are from Central American countries such as El Salvador. I’m sure they’d like their congressmen to step up and defend them.

But Diaz-Balart didn’t do so at the White House and has been mum in the days since.

On Monday night, after reading an early version of this piece online, Diaz-Balart called to tell me it was “factually incorrect” to say that he didn’t respond to the president’s “shithole” countries remarks.

“You’re making that up,” an angry Diaz-Balart said. So what did he say to Trump? “I never talk about private meetings,” he said. Talk about a Catch-22.

Discretion is a good thing, but in this case his constituents need to know he has their backs.

He did issue a statement in which he said he was totally focused on finding a solution for DACA and saving the nearly 800,000 Dreamers from deportation. That’s a worthy goal, and give him credit for trying to craft a solution on DACA. Good for him.

Not good, however, is giving Trump a pass on comments that deserve a rebuke, or at the very least stern criticism. It looks like the congressman is afraid he’ll lose his seat at the DACA bargaining table if he says anything critical of Trump — also lose his seat on formulating U.S. policy toward Cuba.

But Diaz-Balart has struck a Faustian bargain. As long as he remains silent on “shithole” countries he is tacitly countenancing, even condoning the president’s offensive, racist comments. At the same time, the congressman is willing to let down his own constituents as well as other black and brown residents throughout South Florida, be castigated and made to feel unwelcome. It’s not the first time. According to The New York Times, Trump fumed last month when he learned that 15,000 U.S. visas would be granted to Haitians. “They all have AIDS,” How ignorant. How sad. How wrong.

I’ve known Diaz-Balart for more than three decades. I like and respect him. He’s a decent, hard-working lawmaker who has done much good for South Florida in the state Legislature and, since 2002, in Congress. He’s become our go-to guy on transportation funding. He’s built an admirable record of constituent service. But all that is in jeopardy the longer he stays silent on the president’s off-color, wrong-headed remarks.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who was also at the White House meeting, is said to have called out the president immediately. Reliable reports say Graham told the president that, “America is an idea, not a race.”

He also told Trump that America’s diversity is a strength.

We know how true that is in South Florida. In the 25th Congressional District, more than half the residents were born outside the United States, some undoubtedly in one of those “shithole countries.” But now they’re proud Americans and they need their congressman to stand up for them.

Rep. Diaz-Balart, you don’t have to shout it from the rooftops or make it personal and nasty the way the president does. But you’ve got to say it loud and clear: Those remarks were wrong, offensive and unacceptable.

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