U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was among the lawmakers present in the Oval Office when President Donald Trump reportedly said the United States didn’t need more immigrants from “shithole countries.”
The remarks came as a bipartisan group of lawmakers presented Trump with a plan for immigration reform, including a permanent fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program for young immigrants brought into the country as children.
Trump reportedly surprised the lawmakers by saying the U.S. should not accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa. Trump also said the United States should accept more immigrants from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met with this week.
The Washington Post reported the remarks Thursday night.
Trump became angry during a conversation about the visa lottery program, which benefits some African countries, and the temporary protected status afforded to immigrants from certain nations, including El Salvador and Haiti.
“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump said, according to sources who spoke to the Post. “Take them out.”
When speaking to reporters afterward, Graham declined to say how the president responded to the senators’ proposal. But, he added, coming up with bipartisan support in the coming days “will matter to the president.”
But, on Friday, Graham said he had an exchange with the president during the meeting.
“Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday,” Graham said in a statement. “The President and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., praised Graham’s reaction in the meeting.
“My colleague, [Sen. Graham], spoke up and made a direct comment on what the president said,” Durbin said. “For him to confront the president as he did, literally sitting next to him, took extraordinary political courage, and I respect him for it.”
Trump pushed back on his reported comments Friday, tweeting, “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.”
Trump also described the meeting as a “big setback for DACA!”
Trump has said he wants to end the DACA program in March unless Congress takes action.
But Durbin confirmed the president’s comments to reporters, calling them “hate-filled, vile and racist.”
“I cannot believe that in the history of the White House, in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday,” Durbin said.
However, South Carolina’s other senator, Tim Scott, R-Charleston, told CNN the comments were “disappointing” and said denying the contribution of immigrants to America would “ignore the brightest part of our history.”