Trump defends vulgar immigrant comments, partly denies them

Trump said he was only expressing what many people think but won’t say about immigrants from economically depressed countries. (AP Photo)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Trump defends vulgar immigrant comments, partly denies them

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump offered a partial denial in public but privately defended his extraordinary remarks disparaging Haitians and African countries.
Trump said he was only expressing what many people think but won’t say about immigrants from economically depressed countries, according to a person who spoke to the president as criticism of his comments ricocheted around the globe.
Trump spent Thursday evening making a flurry of calls to friends and outside advisers to judge their reaction to the tempest, said the confidant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to disclose a private conversation. Trump wasn’t apologetic about his inflammatory remarks and denied he was racist, instead, blaming the media for distorting his meaning, the confidant said.
Critics of the president, including some in his own Republican Party, took time Friday blasting the vulgar comments he made behind closed doors. In his meeting with a group of senators, he had questioned why the US would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to one participant and people briefed on the remarkable Oval Office conversation.
The comments revived charges that the president is racist and roiled immigration talks that were already on tenuous footing.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump insisted in a series of Friday morning tweets, pushing back on some depictions of the meeting.
But Trump and his advisers notably did not dispute the most controversial of his remarks: using the word “shithole” to describe African nations and saying he would prefer immigrants from countries like Norway instead.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the only Democrat in the room, said Trump had indeed said what he was reported to have said. The remarks, Durbin said, were “vile, hate-filled and clearly racial in their content.”
He said Trump used the most vulgar term “more than once.”
“If that’s not racism, I don’t know how you can define it,” Florida GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told WPLG-TV in Miami.
Tweeted Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona: “The words used by the president, as related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance, were not ‘tough,’ they were abhorrent and repulsive.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the comments “beneath the dignity of the presidency” and said Trump’s desire to see more immigrants from countries like Norway was “an effort to set this country back generations by promoting a homogenous, white society.”
Republican leaders were largely silent, though House Speaker Paul Ryan said the vulgar language was “very unfortunate, unhelpful.”
Trump’s insults — along with his rejection of the bipartisan immigration deal that six senators had drafted — also threatened to further complicate efforts to extend protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, many of whom were brought to this country as children and now are here illegally.
Trump last year ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provided protection from deportation along with the ability to work legally in the US He gave Congress until March to come up with a legislative fix.
The three Democratic and three GOP senators who’d struck their proposed deal had been working for months on how to balance those protections with Trump’s demands for border security, an end to a visa lottery aimed at increasing immigrant diversity, and limits to immigrants’ ability to sponsor family members to join them in America.
It’s unclear now how a deal might emerge, and failure could lead to a government shutdown.
“The rhetoric just makes it more difficult, and that’s unfortunate,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a senior House lawmaker. “I don’t think it makes it impossible, but I suspect the Democrats are sitting there going, ‘Why would we want to compromise with him on anything?’“
There were also questions about which lawmakers were in position to conduct meaningful talks. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 GOP senator, and other Republicans have derided the group of six senators as having little clout. Initial bargaining has also occurred among a separate group of four leaders — the second-ranking Republican and Democrat from both the House and Senate, a group to which both Cornyn and Durbin belong.
At a forum Friday at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said, “We just have to get it done.”
Durbin said, “We have seven days and the clock is ticking. Our bipartisan group continues to build support for the only deal in town.” He said he wants to call the bill to the floor of the Senate early next week.
Lawmakers have until Jan. 19 to approve a government-wide stopgap spending bill, and Republicans will need Democratic votes to push the measure through. But some Democrats have threatened to withhold support unless an immigration pact is forged.
Trump’s comments came as Durbin was presenting details of the compromise plan that included providing $1.6 billion for a first installment of the president’s long-sought border wall.
Trump took particular issue with the idea that people who’d fled to the US after disasters hit their homes in places such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti would be allowed to stay as part of the deal, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly describe the discussion.
When it came to talk of extending protections for Haitians, Durbin said Trump replied: “We don’t need more Haitians.’“
“He said ‘Put me down for wanting more Europeans to come to this country. Why don’t we get more people from Norway?” Durbin told reporters in Chicago.
The administration announced last year that it would end a temporary residency permit program that allowed nearly 60,000 Haitians to live and work in the US in the wake of a devastating 2010 earthquake.
Trump insisted Friday that he “never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems.” Trump wrote, “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings — unfortunately, no trust!“
Trump did not respond to shouted questions about his comments as he signed a proclamation Friday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is Monday.
Sens. David Perdue, R-Ga., and Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, who both attended the Thursday meeting, said in a statement that they “do not recall the president saying these comments specifically.” What Trump did do, they said, was “call out the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest.”
But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said by Durbin to have voiced objection to Trump’s comments during the meeting, issued a statement that did not dispute the remarks.
“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,” Graham said, adding: “I’ve always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals.”


May Day: British leader’s respite won’t end Brexit mess

Updated 13 December 2018
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May Day: British leader’s respite won’t end Brexit mess

  • May was in Brussels on Thursday, imploring European Union leaders help her sell the UK-EU divorce bill to a skeptical British Parliament
  • Britain’s road out of the EU has been anything but smooth as Britain heads for the Brexit ramp and the way ahead still looks bumpy

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May is safe, for now. She has survived a no-confidence vote engineered by her own Conservative Party, and can’t be challenged again for a year, but that has not brought Britain’s Brexit battle any closer to resolution.
May was in Brussels on Thursday, imploring European Union leaders help her sell the UK-EU divorce bill to a skeptical British Parliament.
UK lawmakers were supposed to approve the plan, painstakingly worked out by May and the European Union for Britain’s orderly departure from the 28-nation bloc, in a vote that had been scheduled for Tuesday, but May postponed it rather than face certain defeat.
With the EU insisting the withdrawal agreement can’t be reopened, May faces a struggle to win enough changes to assuage hostile British politicians.
Britain’s road out of the EU has been anything but smooth as Britain heads for the Brexit ramp and the way ahead still looks bumpy.
Britain joined the European Economic Community — now the EU — in 1973, but has long been an ambivalent member. The UK never adopted the euro as its currency, and British politicians have been cool to the bloc’s calls for ever-closer political union.
In 2013, then-Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership “to settle this European question” once and for all — and to silence the loud euroskeptic wing of the Conservative Party which had long clamored for a membership vote.
Cameron was confident voters would choose to remain in the EU, but on June 23, 2016, they voted by 52 percent to 48 percent to leave. Cameron resigned, leaving his successor, May, to deliver on voters’ decision. Last year, May triggered the two-year countdown to departure for March 29, 2019.
Every divorce involves paperwork. Britain can leave without an agreement, a so-called no-deal Brexit — but it won’t be pretty. Departure will tear up thousands of laws and rules stitched together over more than four decades, covering every aspect of British life and the economy.
If Britain and the EU can’t agree to new rules, there could be chaos. Planes would lose permission to fly, British motorists would find their driver’s licenses invalid on the continent, medicine supplies could run short. British officials have warned of gridlock at ports, the need to charter vessels to bring in essential goods and shortages of imported foodstuffs.
The Bank of England has warned that a worst-case “no deal” Brexit would plunge Britain into its worst recession for decades.
With compromises on both sides, Britain and the EU managed to reach agreement on many contentious issues. But one has proved intractable: the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which will be the UK’s only land border with the EU after Brexit.
During Northern Ireland’s decades of violence, the border bristled with soldiers, customs posts, smugglers and paramilitaries. But since a 1998 peace accord, the border has become all but invisible. That’s helped by the fact that Britain and Ireland currently are both EU members, meaning goods and people can flow across the border with no need for customs checks.
Brexit could end all that, disrupting lives and businesses on both sides of the border and potentially undermining the peace process.
To avoid that, the withdrawal agreement includes a border guarantee, known as the “backstop.” It stipulates that if no other solution can be found, the UK will remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit to avoid the need for a hard border. Both sides hope the backstop will never be needed: The agreement gives them until 2022 to reach a permanent new trade deal that could render it unnecessary.
But pro-Brexit British politicians hate the backstop, because Britain can’t get out of it unilaterally; it can only be ended by mutual agreement. So potentially it could endure indefinitely, binding the UK to EU customs regulations, unable to make new trade deals around the world.
Pro-EU lawmakers hate it too, because it leaves Britain subject to rules it has no say in making — an inferior position to remaining in the bloc, they say.
Not much. May says she is seeking “legal and political assurances” at this week’s summit that will satisfy Parliament’s concerns about the backstop. But EU leaders are adamant they will not re-open the legally binding, 585-page withdrawal agreement.
But politics is also about theatrics, and the EU may well offer Britain some sort of wording — a note, an addendum or a codicil — that “clarifies” issues around the backstop. It is possible the spectacle of May under siege from her own party will encourage EU leaders to offer slightly more generous terms to try to keep the process on track.
The British government says it plans to bring the deal, with whatever changes May achieves, back to Parliament for a vote before Jan 21. If it passes, it still must be approved by the European Parliament, but that is not expected to be a problem.
If it fails, Britain is in uncharted waters. Possible outcomes include a no-deal Brexit, a postponed Brexit, a second referendum on Brexit, or a reversal of the decision to leave the EU. All those options have supporters in Parliament, but it’s not clear whether there’s a majority for any of them.
And if May’s plan falls, it’s possible she will too — via a no-confidence vote in Parliament that would trigger a national election. Then it would fall to her successor to try to sort out Britain’s Brexit mess.