U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s office said Friday that he doesn’t recall President Donald Trump making disparaging remarks about Haiti and African nations during a private meeting in the White House, as Democrats pressured him to condemn the comments.
Perdue, a top ally of the president, was at the Oval Office meeting involving discussion about protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of an immigration compromise when Trump reportedly said: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
The comments have caused an international firestorm and temporarily stalled hopes of a bipartisan immigration deal.
Perdue said through a spokeswoman that Trump convened the meeting to bring “everyone to the table this week and listen to both sides.”
“Senator Perdue does not recall the president saying that and the president addressed this himself this morning,” said his office’s statement. “What the president did call out was the imbalance in our current legal immigration system that does not protect American workers and our national interest."
In a tweet on Friday, Trump acknowledged he used “tough” language but denied comparing countries to latrines. Other lawmakers in the meeting, including Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, have fired back at Trump for denying making the comments.
“In the course of his comments, [Trump] said things that were hate-filled, vile and racist,” Durbin told reporters on Friday. “I cannot believe in this history of the White House, in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.”
Durbin said another Republican at the meeting, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, confronted the president after he made the remarks. He praised Graham for “courage” in challenging Trump. CNN reported Friday afternoon that Graham had confirmed Durbin’s version of the story.
Georgia’s other Republican senator, Johnny Isakson, was not at the meeting. But he said in an interview Friday on POTUS SiriusXM radio that if Trump made those remarks “he owes the people of Haiti and all of mankind an apology.”
“That is not the kind of statement the leader of the free world should make, and he ought to be ashamed of himself,” Isakson added. “If he did not make it, he needs to corroborate the facts and prove it and move forward.”
Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman DuBose Porter was among the state Democrats who urged Perdue to condemn the remarks. He said in a statement that Perdue was elected to the Senate to represent Georgia and “not to serve as Trump’s bootlicker.”
“The man who touts himself as an ‘outsider’ was actually inside the room when these remarks are made, and has no excuse to dodge the public and press on where he stands,” Porter said. “David Perdue’s silence can only be interpreted as complicity in this kind of racism and xenophobia.”