Homeland Security Secretary Backs Trump’s Account of DACA Meeting

Kirstjen Nielsen testifies she did not hear the president say 's***hole,' but claims others used profanity in front of him

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 25 Jan 2018 at 9:30 AM

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Tuesday backed President Donald Trump’s account of last week’s White House meeting in which he reportedly used the word “s***hole” to describe certain third-world countries.

Nielsen testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that she does not recall Trump using that word. In fact, she said, others at the meeting used profanity.

“The conversation was very impassioned,” she said. “I don’t dispute that the president was using tough language. Others in the room also were using tough language.”

Controversy erupted last week after reports that Trump told senators negotiating an amnesty deal for young adult illegal immigrants that America needed more immigration from countries like Norway and less from “s***hole” countries like Haiti and some African nations. Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) confirmed the remark, and the president’s critics called it racist.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday called it "one of the most vulgar and racist things I've ever heard a president of either party utter."

Trump denied Durbin's characterization of the discussion, and Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) said they did not recall Trump's using the swear word.

Democratic senators appeared unsatisfied with the answer given by Nielsen, who was in the room at the time.

"And is it possible he said the word at the meeting and you didn't hear it?" Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked.

Responded Nielsen, "Anything is possible, yes, ma'am."

Klobuchar then asked if Nielsen had heard Trump use the word "s***house." She likely was responding to news reports that Cotton and Perdue denied the initial report because they heard the swear word ending in "house" instead.

But Nielsen said she did not hear that, either.

Klobuchar again asked Nielsen if it was possible that she just did not hear it.

"Again, it's possible. It was a meeting of 12 people. There was crosstalk," she said. "The meeting, as you know, was unscheduled. So last minute, when I was notified, I had to clear my schedule. I came in a bit late. So anything is possible. I can't testify to what I don't know."

Nielsen told Klobuchar she agrees that words matter.

"Other profane words, I don't think were appropriate, either. And they were not used by the president," she said. "And I actually was struck more by the fact that the conversation — although passionate and appropriately so — had gotten to a place where many people in the room were using inappropriate language in the Oval Office in front of the president. That's what struck me."

Nielsen's answer was not good enough for Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who launched into a tirade as the secretary watched.

Nielsen's answer was not good enough for Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who launched into a tirade as the secretary watched.

"Your silence and your amnesia is complicity," he said.

Booker said tens of millions of Americans are hurting because of what happened at the White House. He ripped Nielsen for brushing aside questions about it.

"That's unacceptable to me," he said. "There are threats in this country. People plotting. I receive enough death threats to know the reality."

Booker added, "You don't remember. You can't remember the words of your commander-in-chief. I find that unacceptable."

He also said most of the extremist violence committed in the United States is by white supremacists.

Nielsen responded that she abhors violence in all its forms — and ordered a review or programs to ensure that the department was preventing violence across the spectrum.

"I share your passion," he said. "It's unacceptable. It can't be tolerated in the United States."

At times, Nielsen expressed frustration over the refusal by Democrats to let the issue go.

Related: Law-Abiding American Families Are the Victims in the Dreamers Debacle

"Sir, respectfully, I have answered this. I've been very patient with this line of questioning," she told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). "I am here to tell you about the threats our country faces and the needs and authorities that are needed by the Department of Homeland Security. I have nothing further to say about a meeting that happened over a week ago. I'd like to move forward and discuss ways in which we can protect our country."

Nielsen said the 690,000 people currently enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are safe until at least March unless they commit crimes. She said 2,100 people have lost their status for that reason.

DACA is supposed to expire in March, but a federal judge ordered the administration to again begin accepting applications for renewals. The administration on Tuesday appealed that ruling.

"No one has lost their status," Nielsen said. "No one will lose their status until March 5, or later, depending on what happens with the court."

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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