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How Trump’s reported slur could affect immigration politics

President Trump is at the center of a storm of condemnation and charges of racism over his reported words about immigrants from Haiti and Africa during a meeting at the White House yesterday. Lisa Desjardins talks with Judy Woodruff about the backlash and the consequences for the immigration negotiations on Capitol Hill.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president of the United States is at the center of a storm tonight over crude and offensive language.

    The NewsHour has opted not to repeat the word in question, but President Trump was widely quoted as asking a group of U.S. senators yesterday, “Why are we having all these people from ‘blank’-hole countries come here?”

    Today, waves of indignation washed over the White House.

    Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • President Donald Trump:

    That is what Reverend King preached all of his life, love.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Even as he honored the words of Martin Luther King Jr.

  • President Donald Trump:

    No matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    President Trump ignored questions about his reported words about immigrants from Haiti and Africa during a meeting at the White House yesterday.

  • Question:

    Did you refer to African nations as (EXPLETIVE DELETED) countries?

  • Question:

    Mr. President, are you a racist?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Earlier on Twitter, Mr. Trump strongly denied making defamatory comments. He wrote- “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this wasn’t the language used.”

    He later wrote he — quote — “never said anything derogatory about Haiti.”

    Senator Dick Durbin, the only Democrat in the room, insisted the president did ask why the U.S. would want immigrants from Haiti or Africa, and did use a derogatory expletive.

  • Sen. Dick Durbin:

    In the course of his comments said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist. To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning, denying that he used these words. It is not true. He said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told one of his colleagues that the reported comments are basically accurate.

    But two other Republicans at the meeting said they do not recall those remarks.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan was careful in his response, stressing personal ties from his hometown in Wisconsin.

  • Rep. Paul Ryan:

    First thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate, unhelpful. We have got great friends from Africa in Janesville who are doctors who are just incredible citizens. And I just think it’s important that we celebrate that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Other Republicans were much more sharp. Utah Congresswoman Mia Love, whose parents emigrated from Haiti in the 1970s, called the comments “unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values.”

    And Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, herself an immigrant from Cuba, said the president’s language — quote — “takes your breath away.”

  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:

    This is a president that has had a sordid — a sordid, terrible history of making racist statements.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But among the president’s conservative base, his self-described tough language on immigration was cheered.

  • Tucker Carlson:

    President Trump said something that almost every single person in America actually agrees with.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    FOX News host Tucker Carlson-

  • Tucker Carlson:

    I don’t understand what the sin is. You’re not allowed to point out that other countries aren’t as good places to live as America? Like, what is the problem?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Around the world, leaders from a number of African nations quickly condemned the president’s reported words.

  • Jessie Duarte:

    Ours is not a (EXPLETIVE DELETED)-hole country. Neither is Haiti or any other country in distress.

  • Boniface Mwangi:

    What Trump said about Africa is a lie, and it speaks more of Trump than anybody else, that Trump is a shameful, disgusting, embarrassment of a president.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All this comes a week before the January 19 deadline to fund the government, and as the White House and Congress continue to work out a plan on immigration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now.

    So, Lisa, as you’re reminding us, all this happened as there were conversations going on about coming up with a deal on immigration reform. Where does this leave Republicans? How are they reacting to this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, there was certainly a higher-than-unusual unreturned call rate from my Republican sources today, but those that I did talk to and those that I respect said this was a difficult day for them, for two reasons.

    One, they’re worried on how this reflects on their party, a party they know needs to expand its base ultimately, and then, two, for how they look at the president. Congress knows Republicans in Congress still need this president. They still have to work with him. They’re wondering now, is Stephen Miller and the conservative hard-liners, are they the ones who are kind of calling the shots at the White House?

    And how can they criticize this president and still get a deal within days? That’s a situation someone like Lindsey Graham found himself in today, who tweeted out he didn’t deny that he heard these statements, but neither did he say for sure that he did.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, if that’s where the Republicans are, what about Democrats?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

    Democrats think this is a momentum shift for them. That’s no surprise. And they think that this speaks to a larger issue that goes their way, which is not just demographic shifts, but philosophy, a more open America, an America that’s open to the world.

    And we also know, strategically, Judy, they are preparing in the House, Democrats, to offer a censure resolution. That is a very big deal. We have to watch how far that goes. No such effort in the Senate.

    But I think what we have to watch is how these folks really use this politically, but more than that how they take this and deal with the issues in front of them now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So the immigration deal, negotiations themselves, where does that stand? You had this bipartisan group of senators come out of their meeting, come to the White House saying, we have got a deal. But the president rejected it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. That’s right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where does it go?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. He’s got a vote of one that can make something sing or make it die.

    Hear’s what’s happening in the Senate. Those bipartisan talks among those group of six led by Senators Durbin and Graham, that group is sticking by its plan for now. Senator Durbin’s office tells me they are going to try and sell that plan to both the Democratic and Republican conferences outside of the president.

    So I think the plan here is to try and change the president’s mind, essentially, see if they can work with him. One source I talked to said today this is a president who clearly does change his mind within the course of one single meeting, as we saw in the last week. He said messages that means things — different things to different people.

    So, for now, that bipartisan group is going to stick with their plan. However, Judy, conservatives, especially on the House side, want something different, and they’re pointing to a different group of leaders, the number twos in the Senate and the House, who are all meeting, the whips, so-called.

    They have had one meeting. Staff met today. But, to be honest, Judy, they’re not very far along in coming up with a real deal. They don’t meet again until next week. And that’s John Cornyn, Steny Hoyer, that group.

    And it’s that group that conservatives would like to have a role, but it’s not clear if they will or not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, meantime — and, again, you pointed this out — we’re just a week away from a potential government showdown. How does this immigration disagreement fit into the discussions over government spending?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    As much as Republicans have some tough choices to make right now, this is where Democrats have a tough choice.

    They have said some, some of them, that they will not vote for another funding bill until they get a DACA bill this week. However, the real DACA deadline isn’t until March. That’s when all of the DACA program expires.

    Some of them point out some people lose status every day. But Democrats have to decide, are they willing to shut down government this week over DACA? The House side, it sounds like they’re willing to force Paul Ryan to get 218 Republicans for a funding bill if there’s no DACA deal.

    It’s not clear he can do it. The Senate side, Judy, there’s an issue for Democrats. That’s their moderates. I’m not sure that those moderates would shut down government over DACA this week. That is to be determined.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, again, to remind everybody, DACA being those young undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children without documentation and what happens to them.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That’s right. Thank you. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you again. Terrific reporting.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Thank you.

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