Homeland Security secretary denies under oath that she heard Trump say ‘shithole countries,’ but admits that he used ‘tough language’

Kirstjen Nielsen testifies on her nomination to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in Washington

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Kirstjen Nielsen testifies on her nomination to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in Washington
source
Thomson Reuters

  • Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said under oath that she “did not hear” President Donald Trump use the phrase “shithole countries.”
  • Trump made the reported remark at a meeting on immigration at the White House last week, according to some senators who attended the meeting.
  • Nielsen said she did not dispute that Trump “was using tough language” in the meeting.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that she “did not hear” President Donald Trump use the word “shithole” to refer to foreign countries in a meeting last week.

“The conversation was very impassioned. I don’t dispute that the president was using tough language,” Nielsen said. “The concept and the context I believe in which this came up, was that the president would like to move to a merit-based system. The president used tough language in general, as did other congressmen in the room.”

The question, first asked by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, came after a now-infamous White House meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, some of whom have said Trump used “shithole countries” to refer to Haiti and African nations. Nielsen was also grilled during the Tuesday hearing by Sen. Dick Durbin, who had attended the meeting and said Trump use the “hate-filled” language repeatedly.

Since that meeting last week, some Republican senators who attended the meeting have pushed back and said they did not recall Trump using the word. Other reports have emerged that Trump may have instead used the word “shithouse,” a distinction which may have given them cover to deny that Trump had said “shithole.”

“You were in the room, you’re under oath,” Leahy reminded Nielsen on Tuesday. “Did Trump use this word or a substantially similar word?”

Nielsen responded that Trump used “tough language in general, as did other congressmen in the room.”

Nielsen also later told Durbin that she had heard Trump defending his view that he wanted to move away from a “country-based quota system to a merit-based system,” adding that she didn’t “specifically remember” the exact phrasing.

She added that she heard “general profanity that was used in the room by just about everyone,” with the exception of herself and Durbin.

‘Being from Norway is not a skill’

Leahy and Durbin also asked Nielsen about Trump’s reported question about why the US couldn’t accept more immigrants from countries like Norway.

“When he denigrated Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa … he didn’t say it was because we need more PhDs or skilled workers,” Leahy said. “Being from Norway is not a skill. What does he mean when he says he wants more immigrants from Norway?”

Nielsen responded that she didn’t believe Trump meant the comment in the way Leahy suggested, adding that he had brought up Norway in reference to his recent discussion with Norway’s prime minister.

“The prime minister was telling him that the people of Norway work very hard,” Nielsen said.

She later added, “I heard [Trump] repeating what he had learned in a meeting before; that they are industrious, they are hardworking, they don’t have much crime, they don’t have much debt.”

Leahy also said, “Norway is a predominantly white country, isn’t it?” to which Nielsen responded, “I actually do not know that sir, but I imagine that that is the case.”

Watch a clip of the exchange below: