CNN | 2018-7-16 | Español

The remarkable Republican underreaction on 'shithole'

Updated: 8:18 AM ET, Sat January 13, 2018

(CNN) - On Thursday afternoon, in a meeting on a potential deal on immigration, President Donald Trump disparaged immigrants from a numbers of countries including African nations and El Salvador.

No one -- not even Trump himself -- really disputes that.

The question appears to be whether Trump used the phrase "shithole countries" to describe these countries or whether he used some other coarse term. Trump tweeted Friday morning that "the language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used."

On the other hand, Sen Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who was in the meeting, said that Trump did, in fact, use the word "shithole" to describe the countries. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, seemed to confirm that report in a statement in which he said "following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday."

(Two Trump allies -- Republicans Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia -- released a carefully-worded statement Friday; "We do not recall the President saying these comments specifically," it read.")

Here's the thing: Anyone who knows anything -- including Republican congressional leaders -- knows that Trump either said the word "shithole" or something very, very like it.  And that his intent was clear: To question why immigrants from certain countries (African nations etc.) were being let into the US and not more immigrants from countries like Norway.

And yet, despite the fact that everyone in politics knows what Trump said (and meant), the response from Republican leaders was stunningly quiet.

Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump's comments "unfortunate [and] unhelpful" in an interview in Wisconsin. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had said nothing as this newsletter went to press. Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee and a likely Utah Senate candidate in 2018 was also silent.

RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel failed to address the issue at all.

"I think the media chooses to focus on these distracting issues and not on the policies that are helping the American people," she said during a radio interview, according to Politico.

Not all Republicans were so quiet. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona put out statements condemning Trump's use of a slur to describe foreign countries.

But, they were isolated voices within a party that, yet again, was trying its best to pretend its putative leader didn't exist at all. ("Donald Trump? Name doesn't ring a bell!")

Which is odd. This feels like a no-brainer. The president of the United States disparaged immigrants from countries dominated by black and brown folks while asking why there weren't more immigrants coming to the US from an almost-totally white country.

It's pretty cut and dry. Apparently not to Republican leaders, however.

Read Friday's full edition of The Point.


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