Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin says he had high hopes of securing President Trump’s approval of a bipartisan plan for “Dreamers” when he and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham went to the White House to make their presentation at about noon Thursday.
Durbin told reporters in Chicago on Friday that he had reached out to the White House two hours earlier, had spoken with the president and asked him to consider the compromise plan he and five senators — three Democrats and three Republicans — had come up with to “save the Dreamers and help their families.”
According to Durbin, he and Graham believed they would be the only lawmakers in the room with the president, and they were surprised to find that in the two hours since Durbin’s first phone call with the White House, Mr. Trump had invited five other members of Congress as well. All were immigration hardliners: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, North Carolina Sen. David Perdue, and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. In addition to the lawmakers, White House chief of staff John Kelly and White House legislative director Marc Short were also present.
“There were two of us against 10 people in the room,” Durbin said of him and Graham. “I think we held our own as best we could.”
The president then joined the group in the Oval Office, and Durbin and Graham made their pitch on a plan they had worked on for four months — a solution for 700,000 Dreamers who would otherwise lose protection from deportation on March 5. While Graham was making the pitch, the president interrupted several times with questions, Durbin said.
Part of the proposal, according to Durbin, dealt with the diversity visa lottery, a program the. He and Graham explained that their proposal would alter the diversity visa lottery to give legal protections to some immigrants here with (TPS). The Trump administration recently announced it would end that status for countries like Haiti and El Salvador, whose citizens came to the U.S. years ago to escape the aftermath of national disasters.
As Durbin was describing for the president which immigrants with the protected status would receive relief under the diversity visa program, he mentioned a few examples, including Haiti. The president asked why the U.S. would want all those people from Haiti.
Durbin explained they were in the U.S. because they had been “the victims of crises and disasters and political upheaval.” The largest group, he told the president, is from El Salvador, the second largest is Honduran, and the third is Haitian.
“And when I mentioned that fact to him, he said, ‘Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?'” Durbin said. Graham, Durbin said, stood up and “made a direct comment on what the president said,” telling the president his own family story.
“I thought Lindsey really hit the nail on the head,” Graham said.
For his part, Durbin told the president, “I raised the point If you exclude Haitians from this group of temporary protected people, the conclusion is obvious. These are black people. These are folks who bring a different aspect to temporary protected status than Central American countries. He knew it and we all knew it.”
Then, Durbin said that the president began to describe immigration from Africa that would be protected under the bipartisan proposal. A little later, when the group was discussing the visa lottery program, and African immigrants were mentioned, the president asked, why Africa?
“Why are we having all these people from sh*thole countries come here?” the president said. “We should bring in more people from places,” he added. Norway’s prime minister had just visited the White House Wednesday.
Although Mr. Trump denies using such language, “sh*tholes” was “the exact word used by the president,” Durbin recalled. “Not just once but repeatedly. That was the nature of this conversation.”
Durbin also said during the meeting, he confronted the president about his use of the phrase “chain migration,” which is a derogatory phrase describing the process by which legal immigrants bring extended family members into the U.S.
“I said to the president, ‘Do you realize how painful that term is to so many people? 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 is the only person in the meeting who has spoken at length about what transpired in the Oval Office. He did so after Mr. Trump, saying that he used “tough” language but “not that language.”
Cotton and Perdue released a joint statement saying “we do not recall the president saying these comments specifically.”
McCarthy’s office did not comment. Goodlatte had no comment. Diaz-Balart issued a statement that did not acknowledge or refute the president’s “sh*thole” remarks. He said, “I will not be diverted from all possible efforts to continue negotiating to stop the deportations.”
According to the Charleston Post and Courier, South Carolina’s other GOP senator, Tim Scott, said Graham had told him the reports were “basically accurate.”
Graham declined to speak to CBS, but on Friday afternoon also released a statement that said, “Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday. The president and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel. I’ve always believed that America is an idea, not definied by its people but by its ideals.”
He also said he appreciated Durbin’s statements, and he remains committed to a bipartisan solution to keep Dreamers in the country.