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Democratic Senator Dick Durbin Confirms Trump Made "Shithole" Remark; Africa Reacts to President Trump's Comments; Interview with Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte of New York; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 12, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:23] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, 7:00 a.m. Pacific. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. The president of the United States is now denying that he called African countries shitholes or said about Haitian immigrants in this country take them out, meaning out of any deal on immigration to protect their status in this country.

By the way today the 8-year anniversary to the day of the Haitian earthquake that killed some 300,000 people and many fled to this country. If those quotes aren't shocking enough from the president, mere minutes after he denied using them, a senator who's in the meeting with the president says that's not true. The president used these words repeatedly.

Dick Durbin spoke to reporters last hour.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), MINORITY WHIP: Senator Lindsey Graham and I made our presentation. We have been working for four months, six senators, three Democrats and three Republicans, to create a bipartisan way to deal with the crisis we face where more than 700,000 Dreamers protected by DACA are going to lose that protection starting March 5th of this year by a thousand a day.

As Senator Graham made his presentation, the president interrupted him several times with questions and in the course of his comments said things which were hate filled, vile and racist.

He used those words. I understand how powerful they are. But I cannot believe in the history of the White House in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president spoke yesterday.

You've seen the comments in the press. I have not read one of them that's inaccurate. To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning, denying that he used those words. It is not true. He said these hateful things and he said them repeatedly.

When the question was raised about Haitians, for example, we have a group that have temporary protective status in the United States because they were the victims of crises and disasters and political upheaval, the largest groups El Salvador, the second is Honduran and the third is Haitian and when I mentioned that fact to him, he said Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?

And then he went on and started to describe the immigration from Africa that was being protected in this bipartisan measure. That's when he used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from shitholes. The exact word used by the president. Not just once but repeatedly.

That was the nature of this conversation. When it came to the issue of, quote, "chain migration," I said to the president, do you realize how painful that term is to so many people? African-Americans believe that they migrated to America in chains and when you speak about chain migration it hurts them personally. He said, oh, that's a good line.

And then when I talked to him about the impact this has on family reunification in a nation that values family with the flag as the most important symbols of our future they scoffed at this notion.

It was a heartbreaking moment. But I will tell you this, I'm not going to quit. I have a singular mission and the mission is this, to give these Dreamers and as many members of their families as possible a chance to be a part of America's future in a legal status. I am convinced that there's a majority in both the House and the Senate, of Democrats and Republicans, who support that concept.

I know there's an overwhelming majority of Americans who support that concept. So here's what we're going to do. We're going to prepare our bipartisan agreement for introduction into the Senate next week. If the Republican leadership has a better alternative, bring it forward. If they don't, for goodness sakes, give us a break. I will be on the phone with my Republican colleagues and my Democratic colleagues begging them to support this measure.

Time is running out. We have to get this done. I thought that we might get a bipartisan agreement approved by the White House died yesterday. We have to do this and show leadership in Congress to solve this important challenge.


HARLOW: Well, this morning, the president says that he did use tough language in that meeting about immigration reform, but not the apparent shithole language that you just heard Senator Dick Durbin who was in the meeting confirmed the president used repeatedly.

The president also just wrote this this morning, quote, "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. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings. Unfortunately no trust."

We are due to see the president next hour to sign of all things today a proclamation on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And with that, let's go to the White House and our Kaitlan Collins.

Look, Kaitlan, it's not just one source or two sources or three sources or also a sitting U.S. senator or White House officials, not denying it. These are a lot of people who were in the meeting saying yes, the president used these words and now you know more about what the president did overnight.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Poppy. One White House aide described this to me as a victory lap because President Trump spent Thursday night calling his allies, his aides, his friends to see how they believed the, quote, "shithole" remark was playing out in the media and that comes after White House staffers were telling me yesterday that they did not believe this was that big of a PR crisis inside of the White House that when that comment was first reported because they believed this comment is something that will actually resonate with the president's base rather than alienating it.

Much like his attacks on the NFL players who kneel -- who protest by kneeling during the national anthem did as well. So we have that. That's the reception we're getting from inside the White House.

Now over on Capitol Hill, there's been complete silence from Republican leadership, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan. They have not commented on the president's remarks. But we do seem to be getting some support for the president, especially from Congressman Steve King, who tweeted this morning at the president saying, "Hang in there, Mr. President. If those countries aren't as you described, Democrats should be happy to deport criminal aliens back to them end, #anchorbabies, too." Obviously the pejorative term there at the end.

But, Poppy, circling back to the tweet that you just read from the president's non-denial denial that he referred to Haiti as a, quote, "shithole," what he does not deny there is referring to other African countries as shitholes or saying that the United States should take more people from countries like Norway.

So it's important to keep those two things in mind as you read the president's tweet. But yes, there is a chance we can hear from the president on this himself in person here in the next hour at the White House as he signs that MLK proclamation. And another thing to note that as the story broke yesterday, the president was actually recording a video for the upcoming MLK weekend.

But, Poppy, we'll be waiting to see what the president has to say about his comments here at the White House today.

HARLOW: Yes. Well, if he'll answer questions about it. Oftentimes he ignores them.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.

My panel is here, CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, he worked in the Republican White House under President George W. Bush, CNN political commentator Keith Boykin, he worked in the Clinton White House, and Asawin Suebsaeng, political reporter at "The Daily Beast."

Thank you all for being here. Where do I begin? Asawin, let me begin with you, and all of that. What are folks

supposed to make of it this morning? This is the president of the United States.

ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, the president denying it, let's just start with that. It doesn't matter how much he denies it, like all the evidence is weighted against him. As you pointed out multiple sources including one senator on the record saying that he did say these things. And look, like it's not such a shock that President Trump, even though he is the leader of the free world, would say the term shithole.

He's a vulgar guy. Anybody who knows even the slightest bit about him knows that. Anybody who saw the "Access Hollywood" tape during the 2016 election knows that. It's not so much the term shithole he used to describe various countries that should upset some people or perhaps even many people. It's the fact that he was saying both in rhetoric and in what in preferred policy that these are people who should be kept from coming to the United States. Why would we want these people? Why shouldn't we have people from Norway instead?

SUEBSAENG: Even for some of his foremost detractors emphasizing Norway after you've just rattled off a list of African countries and Haiti and El Salvador, seems a little bit on the nose for a president who has been routinely accused of being racist for doing and saying racist things.

HARLOW: Yes. Right. Think of just -- think of the makeup of, you know, the ethnicity, the race of the people that make up African countries and Norway.

Scott Jennings, to you, where is the Republican leadership? Is it appropriate that we haven't heard from a single member of Republican leadership in Congress this morning almost now going on 16, 17 hours after these comments were first reported?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it's a good question. I suspect they're going to wind up having to say something.

[10:10:02] I think they were all getting out of town yesterday. I doubt they'll be able to escape another 24 hours without having to respond to it.

HARLOW: But why should you want to escape this, Scott?

JENNINGS: Although I would point out that --

HARLOW: Why should anyone want to escape this? If your life is dedicated to public service, shouldn't some things be beyond party?

JENNINGS: Well, like I said, I don't think they're going to be able to go through the day without having to respond to it in some way and my suspicion is they are going to disapprove of the president's remarks and they'll probably say something about their own principles regarding what they want as a final outcome here on the topic of the meeting which was getting to a deal on immigration reform. So, you know, I suspect that there's probably some conversation that

has to go on between the leadership and the president or at least the president's senior staff before they go out and speak, but I would also say this, this president frequently makes statement on Twitter and in meetings and in other venues that we routinely say where is the Republican leadership, why aren't people commenting on it?

I mean, you can spend every hour of every day commenting on the comments, and I think at some point instead of reacting to it in the moment, you have to take a step back and make a measured statement and so I know you all want Republican leaders to go out every hour of every day and make an immediate reaction, but sometimes a measured reaction is better.


JENNINGS: And to see what they come up with later today.


SUEBSAENG: Racism is bad is a pretty easy statement to make.

HARLOW: I just take a little issue with that --

SUEBSAENG: I don't think (INAUDIBLE) the bar through the floor here.

HARLOW: Yes. Scott, I take a little bit of issue with that because I'm not asking for immediate reaction, it's been 16 hours. And these are pretty extraordinary comments.

Keith, to you, you worked in the White House. Kaitlan is reporting that overnight the president was calling his aides, his allies, his friends, weighing how these comments were playing out publicly and in the press, and one White House official referred to it as a victory lap by the president. What do you see?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think it's a victory. I think there may be some shortsighted political gain from this from the president's base, of course, but in terms of the long- term impact, this is having a damaging, corrosive effect on the brand of the Republican Party. You have Donald Trump who already came in on the racist platform attacking Barack Obama's birth certificate, attacking Mexicans and Muslims.

Now he's going after NFL players and going after Haitians and African countries, and the impression that people are getting is that this is a president who only supports white Europeans, people from Norway. That's not good because our country is changing. It's a demographically changing nation. White people will no longer be the majority of the country by 2044. And millennials are overwhelmingly opposed to see what they from Donald Trump.

So what you're doing is you're getting like five maybe 10 years most of political gain and then you're wiping out any future for the potential of the Republican Party because there's no one who is a part of this demographic base who -- the growing America will want to be a part of that.

HARLOW: Back to you, Scott, quickly, as a Republican on the panel, I mean, is he right? Does this threaten the party?

JENNINGS: Well, look, I think that where this comment hurts a lot in the context of the most immediate political issue which is the midterm election is in the suburbs. I mean if you look at the demographics and some of these polls and where the president is losing support they're probably very likely to disapprove of these comments.


JENNINGS: I certainly think the comments are not helpful in the following, you know, immediate political context of trying to put together a coalition that can stave off a Democratic wave. If that's a lens through which you want to look at it through today. So I'm troubled by it.

Look, I'm a George W. Bush White House staffer. We spent an enormous amount of time, energy, resources, trying to exert American values and American influence on the continent of Africa. We've been talking a lot about domestic policy and domestic political impact. One thing we have to keep in mind we are fighting China right now to see which global super power is going to be the most influential on the continent of Africa.

HARLOW: Right.

JENNINGS: I've been thinking really since last night about how do these comments affect that.

HARLOW: Good. That's a good point.

JENNINGS: The Chinese are investing heavily in Africa and we've got to --


JENNINGS: We've got to recognize that the president's words put our global leadership and the way they view us in jeopardy on that comment.

HARLOW: How about the 6,000 American troops serving across the continent of Africa right now?

Asawin, to you, the "L.A. Times" editorial board, let me just read you the headline -- I think we have it to pull it up. "Trump is a liar but his shithole remark shows he's often scariest when he says what he truly believes."

What do you make of that assessment?

SUEBSAENG: Right. Well, the thing about President Trump and also before that, candidate Trump, when it came to conservative and right- wing politics in this country, is that his sin among other Republicans who didn't like him was that he had a tendency to say the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet. At some point it's a matter of degrees and emphasis, not actually of substance. Certainly it's hard to deny that there's been a virulent strain of anti-sentiment within the mainstream GOP for quite a long time.

But I want to go back to what we were emphasizing earlier. At the end of the day this isn't about naughty words. The president of the United States --

[10:15:06] HARLOW: Right.

SUEBSAENG: -- says naughty words all the time in private and sometimes in public. This is about policy. And this gets at the core of what has been the naked racism and naked xenophobia of a lot of his proposed policies during the campaign and in the White House. And that is the most important part to take into stock, when people on FOX News or anywhere else start trying to make this about language. It's not about language.

HARLOW: And it's not normal. Thank you, Scott, Keith, Asawin. Appreciate it.

So looking for an explanation like so many of us are this morning, countries, leaders of countries, ambassadors across the globe, summoning their counterparts in the United States asking, clarify what did the president mean when he said all of that.

Much more of the international reaction ahead.


[10:20:08] HARLOW: This morning the president is denying he said anything derogatory about Haitians or Haiti and a source tells CNN that his shithole comments were directed in that meeting at the White House to African nations, but we know also that he did say about Haiti, why do we need more Haitians, take them out of any immigration deal.

Now America's top diplomat in Haiti has been summoned by that nation's president to try to explain what the president meant and the African nations of Botswana is calling -- African nation of Botswana is calling the comment racist. Also summoning the U.S. ambassador there.

Joining me now in Nairobi, Kenya is our international correspondent Farai Sevenzo.

So what's the reaction on the ground?

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, the reaction has been steadily building up since we began reporting the story early this morning. As you said, the Botswana government, who are not one of those people who have a special pass to enter the United States because their country is in turmoil or wherever, but they say that very specifically Botswana accepts a great deal of U.S. citizens within their borders.

Remember it's a massive wildlife country, hunting is very popular with the United States citizens, and they want to know whether the shithole comments refers to them. And then they went on to say, "This is why we view the utterances by the current American president as highly irresponsible, reprehensible and racist."

Now on the streets of Nairobi, the feelings amongst ordinary Africans who are not presidents or governments have been exactly the same. Take a look at what the people have been saying in Nairobi.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I find him quite offensive. OK, actually very offensive. Because I think Africa -- most countries in Africa are pretty stable and we are doing good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's not the right thing for him to do, as the president of the United States of America, like we expect more of him. We expect him to be an example.


SEVENZO: And just one more thing to add to you, Poppy, which is that there's a massive disconnect between the work of American diplomats on the ground in Africa and the statements coming out from Washington and, indeed, the charged affairs of the American embassy in Mogadishu was there giving his blood when a massive bomb went off in October, together with all his staff.

So Africans are asking, who is in charge of America on the African continent? Should we listen to this man and his shithole comments or should we listen to the diplomats who've been working so hard in every single administration to tie the ties between Africa and the United States?

HARLOW: Farai, thank you for the reporting on the ground there in Kenya. We appreciate it.

So for New York State Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, the words the president used certainly hit home there. Very personal. She is the first Haitian American woman elected to the New York State Assembly.

I appreciate you being here today. Wish it was on better news.


HARLOW: Here's what the president writes this morning, OK, let's read it in full about Haitians. "Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than that Haiti is obviously a very poor and troubled country. Never said take them out. Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians." And then he goes on to say, maybe I should record meetings in the future.

Now our reporting from our Jake Tapper and from sitting Senator Dick Durbin who was in the meeting is that he did say, why do we need more Haitians, take them out of any potential immigration deal to protect their temporary protected status here. What's your reaction? BICHOTTE: Well, first of all, thank you for having me here today. As

the proud daughter of Haitian immigrants and an American legislature that represents the largest Haitian population in the state of New York, I stand with my colleague and government, Haitian sister, Congresswoman Mia Love, as well as all the other Haitians elected across the United States to condemn these racist and divisive remarks by President Trump regarding the African countries being called shitholes and referring to Haiti as in a sense shithole as well. Why do we need to include them?

And the interesting thing is, he said these things on the eve of the eighth anniversary commemorating the earthquake --

HARLOW: Today marks the day eight years ago when some 300,000 people were killed in the Haiti earthquake. And many fled to this country and are here, tens of thousands under temporary protected status, and that is what the president was referring to yesterday in the meeting saying, you know, why do we need them here, take them out of any deal.

Here's what the president promised to Haitian Americans during the campaign. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm running to be president of all Americans. That's everybody. And whether you vote for me or you don't vote for me, I really will be your greatest champion and I will be your champion.


HARLOW: Which Trump do you believe?


[10:25:02] BICHOTTE: Well, obviously, I want to believe that Trump. You know, it's really interesting because he talks about Haitians as if they haven't contributed to the United States. Haitians have been a long part, positive contributing factor to the United States expanding in their purchase of the Louisiana territory.

We have Haitians who participate in American Revolution, Haitians who fought in World War II, who were members of the Tuskegee airmen, the first Haitian settler in Chicago who found Chicago, Jean-Baptist Du Sable. And we produce a number of Haitians who are doctors, lawyers, trade workers, health care. We have one of the largest health care population workers in the United States.

So for him to say, you know, why Haitians, he must understand the value that we bring but also does he understand the American value? And that's the thing. So it brings the attention to us.

HARLOW: How do you feel about no one from Republican leadership at this time, not a single member of Republican leadership in Congress, weighing in on this now almost 17 hours after the president's comments were first reported? BICHOTTE: Well, I think Mia Love, she commented on it.

HARLOW: Leadership.

BICHOTTE: Oh, leadership.


BICHOTTE: Well, you know, it's interesting that no one has said that. I mean, I'm shocked and appalled, the fact that leadership has not come forth and, you know, we hope that leadership can put President Trump to be accountable.

HARLOW: So what happens to the relationship between Haiti and the United States moving forward? I mean, what are you saying to your constituents who are coming to you upset about all of this?

BICHOTTE: Well, for one, a number of us, Haitian American elected officials who are meeting at the end of January to put a strategic process together in working with Congress and the Senate, to push the extension of TPS because the people in my community are, you know, affected. And right now, the notion of Haiti being in a position to accept these 60,000 TPS Haitians is erroneous.

Right now we're still facing the battle of cholera, the epidemic of cholera. We are still facing homelessness, human trafficking, famine and political instability. So we are telling our constituents that we're going to continue fighting, we're going to continue writing to our high leadership in Washington and also we as a people, as American people, we are demanding an apology from President Trump.

HARLOW: As we go, I just want to pull, guys, if we have it, the picture of a Haitian-American serving this country right now, volunteer in the armed services. Here you see him. That's his graduation from West Point in 2016. Just a reminder of the contributions that Haitian-Americans make.

We appreciate your time, Assemblywoman. Thank you.

BICHOTTE: Thank you.

HARLOW: Very much.

All right. The president just canceled a trip to London, now moments ago, his appointed ambassador there spoke out against his reason for canceling the trip. What he had to say ahead.