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Dick Durbin refutes Trump, says he did say "sh*tholes" -- repeatedly

Last Updated Jan 12, 2018 1:06 PM EST

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, refuted President Trump's tweeted denials that he used the phrase "sh*thole countries" when discussing legal protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries.  Durbin, who was in the meeting with the president when he made the remarks, said of Mr. Trump's denial,  "It's not true. He said those hateful things, and he said them repeatedly."

Durbin attended an event in Chicago Friday and then held a press conference on the president's comments afterward. He told reporters how the issue came up:

When the question was raised about Haitians, for example, we have a group that have temporary protected status in the United States because they were the victims of crises and disasters and political upheaval. The largest group is El Salvadoran. The second is Honduran and the third is Haitian, and when I mentioned that fact to him, he said 'Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?' And then he went on and started to describe the immigration from Africa that was being protected in this bipartisan measure. That's where he used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from "sh*tholes" -- the exact word used by the president not just once, but repeatedly.

Mr. Trump on Friday morning tweeted that he had used "tough language" but denied he had used the profane phrase. 

And he also denied he had said anything insulting about Haitians, tweeting that he "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!"

Durbin said he tried to explain to him why it was he shouldn't use the phrase "chain migration," which refers to the process by which immigrants bring their extended family into the U.S. "When it came to the issue of 'chain migration,' I said to the president, 'Do you realize how painful that term is to so many people?'" Durbin recalled. "'African-Americans believe they migrated to America in chains and when you talk about chain migration, it hurts them personally.' He said, 'Oh, that's a good line.'"

Durbin's hope for a bipartisan agreement with the president's imprimatur receded somewhat on Thursday, but he said he still plans to forge ahead with the agreement reached by some bipartisan senators Thursday.

"We're going to prepare our bipartisan agreement for introduction into the Senate next week," Durbin said. "If the Republican leadership has a better alternative, bring it forward. If they don't, for goodness sakes, give us a vote."

In a joint statement issued Friday afternoon by Sens. David Perdue, R-Georgia, and Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, who were in the room, they claimed that they don't recall Mr. Trump making the comment. 

"President Trump brought everyone to the table this week and listened to both sides. But regrettably, it seems that not everyone is committed to negotiating in good faith," they said. "In regards to Senator Durbin's accusation, we do not recall the President saying these comments specifically but what he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest. We, along with the President, are committed to solving an issue many in Congress have failed to deliver on for decades."