The White House did not initially deny or push back on firsthand reports last Thursday that President Trump said the U.S. should not take in immigrants from "shithole countries" like Haiti, African nations, and El Salvador "because aides knew that Trump had said it and that the president wasn't even too upset," The Washington Post reports, citing "people involved in the talks."
While "many White House aides were concerned that the story was exploding beyond the usual level for a Trump controversy," nearly every top official decided to attend a going-away party for top White House aide Dina Powell, the Post adds, and Trump spent some part of Thursday evening "calling friends and asking how they expected it to play with his political supporters." The feedback wasn't negative. "Everyone was saying it would help with the base," one person who spoke with the president told the Post.
Still, by Friday morning, Trump seemed to be denying that his "tough" language included the word "shithole," and by Sunday, two Republican senators in the meeting, Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), said they couldn't recall hearing Trump say that vulgarity; Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she didn't "recall him saying that exact phrase." Well, the Post reports:
Three White House officials said Perdue and Cotton told the White House that they heard "shithouse" rather than "shithole," allowing them to deny the president's comments on television over the weekend. The two men initially said publicly that they could not recall what the president said. Representatives for both men declined to comment. [The Washington Post]
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who was in the meeting and confirmed Trump's vulgar comments, didn't seem too upset about Cotton kind of contradicting him, and he stood by his version of events.
To ban, or not to ban? That was the question at the White House daily briefing Tuesday when Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted President Donald Trump "has made very clear" that the executive action on immigration "is not a Muslim ban. It's not a travel ban. It's a vetting system to keep America safe. That's it." After pushback, Spicer reiterated: "It can't be a ban if you're letting a million people in."
By Wednesday morning, Trump had jumped into the fray:
Everybody is arguing whether or not it is a BAN. Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of country!
Trump did not call his proposal a ban when he first introduced it as "preventing Muslim immigration" in late 2015. "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on," the statement read.
But Trump has used the word "ban" to talk about his plan since early 2016:
Hillary Clinton said that it is O.K. to ban Muslims from Israel by building a WALL, but not O.K. to do so in the U.S. We must be vigilant!
When a reporter asked Tuesday if the White House was confused about the word "ban," Spicer said: "I'm not confused. The words that are being used to describe it are derived from what the media is calling it." Jeva Lange