DHS secretary says Trump used 'tough' language on immigration but denies hearing specific slurs
Posted January 16, 2018 10:24 a.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2018 11:30 a.m. EST
(CNN) — Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told senators Tuesday she "did not hear" President Donald Trump say the specific word "shithole" during a meeting with lawmakers last week that she attended.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, reminded Nielsen at a Senate Judiciary Hearing on Tuesday that she was "under oath" and asked if he used that word or a "substantially similar" one.
"I did not hear that word used, no sir," she said, before Leahy cut her off.
"That wasn't the question -- did he use anything similar to that describing certain countries?" he asked.
Nielsen dodged that question, saying the language was "tough."
"The conversation was very impassioned, I don't dispute that the President was using tough language, others in the room were also using tough language," Nielsen said.
Sens. Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham, a Democrat and Republican who were in the room, have confirmed to the press the reports that Trump said the words "shithole countries" to describe individuals from African nations and had disparaging remarks toward Haitians being part of an immigration deal -- all as part of a conversation about how the US accepts immigrants. Other lawmakers in the room, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue, have said they don't recall hearing that word used. Trump has denied using the word, though he has said the conversation was tough and has spoken privately with friends about the remark playing well with his base.
"Did he use what would be considered vulgar language referring to certain countries?" Leahy asked again.
"The President used tough language in general as did other congressman in the room, yes sir," Nielsen said.
The homeland security secretary is facing a grilling from senators in the wake of the President's remarks.
The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, opened her comments by warning Nielsen that she was not happy with what she was hearing out of her department thus far.
Feinstein referenced recent reports that Nielsen's department was continuing to consider a practice of separating children from parents when apprehended at the border -- a policy first suggested last year by then-Secretary John Kelly.
"Candidly, woman to woman, I can't believe that, and I hope you will clarify," Feinstein said. "Not only would such a systemic policy infringe on the constitutional rights of parents. It is also callous and stunningly un-American."
Feinstein added that a that pediatric group have said such a policy would have a negative impact on children.
"The America I know does not rip small children from their parents, and I can't imagine the fear that a small child would feel if this would happen," Feinstein said. "And for what? Because the child had no part in this."
Nielsen, in her answers, said the department has "not made any policy decisions" on the topic, though she noted there are reasons at times to separate children from who they arrive in the US with, especially if there is a suspicion they are being trafficked.
Feinstein also referenced the President's recent remarks about "shithole countries" in a meeting last week with fellow Judiciary member Sen. Dick Durbin and Nielsen, among other lawmakers.
"In light of the reports about the President's recent comments, I hope you're ready to specifically address one issue in particular and that's the termination of Temporary Protected Status known as TPS for Haitians," Feinstein said. "In light of the President's comments, I'm forced to question whether the decision to terminate protected status for Haitian nationals was in fact racially motivated. I hope not."