Was President Trump’s “shithole” comment racist? Yep. Do lawmakers think President Trump’s “shithole” comment was racist? Well, that might not be the right question, according to several Republicans who appeared on Sunday morning talk shows to cast doubt on whether the president actually used the completely-in-character language he has been accused of.
Democratic representative John Lewis was straightforward about the remark and Trump’s character in general during his appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos: “I think the president is a racist,” Lewis said.
But Republican senators weren’t having it.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has developed into one of the president’s closest allies, stood up for Trump on Meet the Press. “Let’s take the whole scenario and put different words in there,” Paul, reasoned, absurdly, trying to reframe Trump’s comments as a perfectly reasonable demand for higher-skilled immigrants. “You can’t have an immigration compromise if everybody is out there calling the president a racist,” he added. (Time will tell if his assessment is correct.)
Georgia senator David Perdue said it was “ridiculous” to characterize Trump’s comment as racist, then went a step further and denied the president even said “shithole,” accusing Democratic senator Dick Durbin, who publicized Trump’s remarks, of a “gross mischaracterization.” Previously, Perdue had claimed he did “not recall” whether Trump had uttered the word.
Arkansas senator Tom Cotton told Face the Nation’s John Dickerson that he also didn’t hear Trump say the word during the meeting, and that Durbin “has a history” of misrepresenting the truth. (Unlike, you know, Tom Cotton.)
National Review’s Rich Lowry got more specific on This Week, telling Stephanopoulos that his sources told him Trump used the word “shithouse,” not “shithole” — which does not seem like a world of semantic difference.
And Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen went with the standard “I don’t recall him using that exact phrase” defense to Fox News’s Chris Wallace.
So the party line — at least, beyond Lindsey Graham — is that the president may not have said what he was reported to have said, but that even if he did, it wasn’t racist, just realistic. Got it.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Rich Lowry worked for the Weekly Standard.