Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, and said she does not recall President Donald J. Trump using the word “s**thole” to refer to Haiti, El Salvador and African countries, as is being widely reported. She did recall that the president and many others in the room were impassioned and used “tough language” and curse words while in the meeting.
Nielsen was questioned by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D. Vt.), as the senator used the opportunity to denounce the comments attributed to Trump. Leahy said they were the “most vulgar and racist things I’ve ever heard a president of either party utter.”
However, Leahy did not personally hear the president’s comments, and was basing his attack against the statements on hearsay from Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who was present at the meeting and is the only person in attendance to specifically attribute the words to the president.
Leahy asked Nielsen, who was also in the meeting, if she heard President Trump refer to the countries as “s–thole countries,” or if he used language in any way similar to that.
“I did not hear that word used. No, sir,” Nielsen said.
“That’s not the question. Did he use anything similar to that describing certain countries?” Leahy asked.
“The conversation was very impassioned. I don’t dispute that the president was using tough language,” she said. “Others in the room were also using tough language.”
“Did he use what would be considered vulgar language referring to certain countries?” Leahy asked.
“The president used tough language in general, as did other congressmen in the room. Yes, sir,” she said.
Leahy went on to try to nail Nielsen done over whether President Trump expressed a preference for Norwegian immigrants, and indicated that he thought the preference would be due to the color of their skin.
Nielsen disagreed with Leahy’s assessment, saying comments the president made were in regard to the industriousness and hard-working nature of the people from Norway, and that he had a preference for those attributes, not skin tone.
Sen. Durbin also questioned Nielsen, and as both were in the room for the heated debate, they had an exchange based on their recollections of the language used and the context of certain statements.
Nielsen remained certain that Trump was concerned about moving to a merit-based immigration system, and had not been disparaging to individuals based on their skin color, but upon their skills and abilities.
Nielsen again repeated to Durbin that she had not heard Trump make the derogatory comments attributed to him.
Despite Leahy’s assertion that no other president has used such “vulgar” terminology to describe another country, the Atlantic reported in April 2016 that former President Barrack Hussein Obama referred to Libya as a “s–t-show.”