WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - A Republican senator who attended an immigration meeting last week at the White House forcefully denied on Sunday (Jan 14) that President Donald Trump had used the phrase "s***hole countries" in describing Haiti and African nations, saying a Democratic senator's account of the session was "a gross misrepresentation".
Senator David Perdue said on ABC's "This Week" that Trump "did not use that word," and accused Democratic senator Richard J. Durbin of distorting what the president had said at the meeting, which included more than a half-dozen lawmakers.
Republican senator Tom Cotton joined Perdue later in the morning in questioning Durbin.
"I didn't hear that word either," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation".
"And I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was."
Cotton said Durbin "has a history of misrepresenting what happens in White House meetings," a comment that Perdue echoed in his interview Sunday morning.
Ben Marter, a spokesman for Durbin, immediately attacked their assertions.
"Credibility is something that's built by being consistently honest over time," Marter wrote on Twitter. "Senator Durbin has it. Senator Perdue does not. Ask anyone who's dealt with both."
The remarks by Perdue and Cotton were an escalation from a statement they released on Friday, when they said they did "not recall the president saying these comments specifically".
They also appear to conflict with the account of Republican senator Lindsey Graham who was at the meeting. Graham told a fellow South Carolina Republican, Seator Tim Scott, that reports in the news media of Trump's language were "basically accurate".
The other lawmakers at the meeting, all Republicans, have either not discussed it publicly or made only vague comments.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who also sat in on the meeting, said on "Fox News Sunday" that she could not recall the president "saying that exact phrase".
Durbin had told reporters on Friday that Trump had used the word "s***hole" several times in front of the group during a discussion of a proposed bipartisan deal on immigration, and had said "things which were hate-filled, vile and racist".