After bizarrely offering his “congratulations” to the late Martin Luther King Jr. at the White House on Friday, President Donald Trump was asked for the first time by reporters to explain why he referred to Haiti and some African nations as “shithole countries,” during talks about immigration a day earlier.
“Mr. President, will you give an apology for the statement yesterday?” Trump was asked by April Ryan, Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio, as he turned to leave the ceremony honoring the civil rights leader. When Trump ignored the question, a second reporter asked, “Did you use the word ‘shithole’ to refer to African nations?”
Ryan then cut to the point, asking Trump the question that should be repeated every day from now until the end of his term: “Mr. President, are you a racist?”
When Trump again ignored the question, Ryan repeated it — a fact lost on anyone who followed the event on the live video stream on the White House web site, since it abruptly cut out at that point, though C-SPAN continued to broadcast the event.
Since Trump lies so easily and has previously called himself the planet’s “least-racist person,” there might seem to be little point in pressing him to answer Ryan’s question. But, as reporters in the Netherlands demonstrated this week, asking politicians who make offensive statements to account for their remarks can be a public service, by at least attaching some sort of social embarrassment to making such comments.
That Trump did indeed refer, repeatedly, to those nations as “shithole countries” was confirmed on Friday by Sen. Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who was in the room when the president complained that people from those nations should not be welcomed as immigrants.
“President Trump said things that were hate-filled, vile, and racist,” Durbin told television reporters. “He used those words repeatedly.”
When Durbin was asked later about a tweet from Trump, in which he seemed to deny using the word “shithole,” the senator said, “I stand by what I said. If the president disputes it, then … well, it’s not the truth.”
Durbin also revealed that one Republican in the room, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, took issue with Trump’s comments. Graham acknowledged as much in a statement released later on Friday, saying that he offered an affirmation of the multicultural roots of the United States.