CBSN

Cory Booker rebukes DHS secretary over "amnesia" about Trump's "sh*thole" remarks

Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen's statement to Congress that she couldn't remember whether President Trump referred to some nations as "sh*thole countries" enraged New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker. 

"Your silence and your amnesia is complicity," Booker told her as she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. 

Senators who asked Nielsen about the allegation that the president used the profane phrase in an immigration meeting last week heard her say she didn't remember or didn't hear him. "I did not hear that word used," Nielsen told senators. "The president used tough language in general, as did other congressmen in the room," she said to another senator. 

However, "I don't dispute that the president was using tough language," Nielsen said.  

"Why are we having all these people from sh*thole countries come here?" the president said in a closed meeting with lawmakers about immigration last week, according to senators who were present. Once reports surfaced about the president's language, Mr. Trump initially tweeted a vague denial that "tough language" had been used, "but not that language." After that, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, who had attended the meeting, told reporters that Mr. Trump had used the phrase.

"When Dick Durbin called me, I had tears of rage when I heard about his experience in that meeting," Booker told Nielsen at Tuesday's hearing. "And for you not to feel that hurt and that pain, and to dismiss some of the questions of my colleagues, saying 'I've already answered that line of questions,' when tens of millions of Americans are hurting right now because of what they're worried about what happened in the White House, that's unacceptable to me."

"I've got a president of the United States, whose office I respect, who talks about the country's origins, my fellow citizens, in the most despicable manner," Booker railed. "You 'don't remember.' You 'can't remember' the words of your commander-in-chief. I find that unacceptable."

Durbin also asked Nielsen about the president's comments. "There was a lot of rough talk by a lot of people in the room," Nielsen said, without referring specifically to any of the handful of lawmakers in the room or to the president. "Did you hear me use profanity?" Durbin asked Nielsen. "No, sir," she replied. "Neither did I [use profanity].' 

"Did you hear Sen. Graham use profanity?" Durbin followed up. 

"I did hear tough language from Sen. Graham, yes, sir," Nielsen responded.

Durbin asked her, "What did he say?" 

"He used tough language," Nielsen said. "He was impassioned. I think he was feeling very strongly about the issue, as was everyone in the room. And to underscore a point, I think he was using some strong language."

"Do you recall," Durbin asked her, "that the strong language he used repeated exactly what the president had said prior to that?"