Days after U.S. Sen. David Perdue said he couldn’t recall whether President Donald Trump referred to Haiti and African nations in certain vulgar terms, he went on national television to forcefully contend the president didn’t do so.
Perdue’s course correction came Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” He said that Trump “did not use that word,” and criticized U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who went public with accusations about Trump using the language at a closed-door meeting Thursday in the Oval Office.
“I’m telling you he did not use that word, George. And I’m telling you it’s a gross misrepresentation. How many times do you want me to say that?” the Georgia senator told “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos.
He was joined in his assertion that Trump didn’t refer to “shithole” countries in that meeting by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who was also in the room and, like Perdue, is an ally of the president.
In a joint statement Friday, Perdue and Cotton said, “We do not recall the President saying these comments specifically but what he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest.”
But like Perdue, Cotton offered a clarification Sunday. Cotton told “Face the Nation” on CBS: “I didn’t hear that word either. And I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was.”
Durbin spokesman Ben Marter took aim at Perdue shortly after his comments.
“Credibility is something that’s built by being consistently honest over time,” Marter wrote on Twitter. “Senator Durbin has it. Senator Perdue does not. Ask anyone who’s dealt with both.”
‘All of mankind’
Another Republican who was in the room, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, was said to have challenged Trump after he made the derogatory remarks during a broader discussion on immigration policy.
He reportedly told U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a fellow Republican from South Carolina, that reports about the language were “basically accurate” but has said little more. The other GOP lawmakers at the meeting have also been largely tight-lipped about what was said.
Perdue’s comments also contrasted with his GOP colleague from Georgia, Sen. Johnny Isakson, who was starkly critical of Trump’s reported comments.
Isakson said in an interview Friday on POTUS SiriusXM radio that he wasn’t at the meeting but if Trump made those remarks “he owes the people of Haiti and all of mankind an apology.”
“That is not the kind of statement the leader of the free world should make, and he ought to be ashamed of himself,” Isakson added. “If he did not make it, he needs to corroborate the facts and prove it and move forward.”
The meeting Thursday was meant to hash out a compromise over young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers who were brought here illegally as children. Perdue described it Sunday as “very constructive,” while Trump acknowledged in a tweet Friday that he used “tough” language but denied comparing countries to latrines.
‘Willing to lie’
On Sunday, Georgia Democrats pounded on Perdue’s comments to paint him as a Trump loyalist who will back the president at all costs.
“Either @sendavidperdue lied Friday or lied today,” the Democratic Party of Georgia tweeted. “The date doesn’t matter, the fact that Perdue is willing to lie to cover up for Trump definitely does.”
And state Rep. Scott Holcomb, a DeKalb Democrat and potential 2020 challenger to Perdue, said the junior senator is “not credible.”
“He does what he is told and that’s it,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Empty suit.”
Holcomb had even more scathing words for the first-term Republican on Twitter.
“Perdue does what he’s told, when he’s told,” he wrote. “He went from didn’t hear it to didn’t say it because that’s what he was told to do.”