Republicans struggled to get their stories straight Tuesday as President Donald Trump’s Homeland Security secretary became the latest GOP official to offer an inconclusive version of a meeting in which Trump is said to have used vulgar remarks that have been criticized as racist. Democrats accused Republicans of selective amnesia, as Kirstjen Nielsen testified under oath that she “did not hear” Trump use a certain vulgarity to describe African countries.
“It was a meeting of 12 people. There was cross-talk,” she explained at a congressional hearing, but she didn’t “dispute the president was using tough language.”
Under persistent questioning, Nielsen said she didn’t recall the specific language used by Trump.
“What I was struck with frankly, as I’m sure you were as well, was just the general profanity used in the room by almost everyone.” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, angrily criticized Nielsen’s comments, telling her during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Your silence and your amnesia is complicity.”
Nielsen’s comments came five days after the president ignited what GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham termed an “s-storm” with his Oval Office remarks. Sen. Cory Booker is criticizing the Homeland Security secretary for saying she can’t recall President Trump using vulgarity to describe African countries. And Sen. Lindsey Graham blames Trump’s staff for the president’s about-face on immigration.
The White House has not substantively disputed accounts of the episode, in which Trump is said to have used the term “shithole” to describe African countries of origin for potential immigrants to the U.S. The revelations, semi-denials and continuing comments have cast a pall over the White House’s legislative agenda, brought the country closer to the brink of a government shutdown and sparked international outrage. And with the midterm elections approaching, there are fresh fears among Republicans who were already anxious over the political climate going into November — and over Trump’s unpredictable actions.
The White House said Trump had no intention of apologizing.