“I think that is an outrageous claim,” Sanders told reporters on Tuesday, adding that if he was who critics said he was, “why did NBC give him a show for a decade on TV? Why did Chuck Schumer and all of his colleagues come and beg Donald Trump for money? …Why did they want to be with him for years and years, whether it was various activities and fundraisers, and other sorts of things?”
She added, “I think it is just an outrageous and ludicrous excuse and they need to get on board and start doing what they were elected to do.”
Sanders’ latest comments underscored the fallout from reports that Trump, in a heated meeting on immigration with other lawmakers on Thursday, used the term “s—hole countries” to describe African nations. Trump was pushing back on the argument that migrants from those countries deserved protection in the U.S., and wondered why more immigrants were not coming from Norway.
Sanders didn’t deny that Trump used “strong language,” but said that it showed that he was “passionate” about the issue.
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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who was at the meeting, confirmed that Trump made the comment, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was also there, did not deny that Trump made the remark. “I said my piece,” he said.
Trump has denied using the word “s—hole,” and two other senators who were there, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), said he did not say it. Yet there are reports that their denial is based on Trump’s use of another word, “s—house,” instead.
In the fallout from the comment, the remark has been labeled as “racist,” as has Trump himself. Michael Gerson, the conservative columnist, wrote in The Washington Post on Tuesday that Trump “makes offhand racist comments, he promotes racial stereotypes, and he incites racism as a political strategy.”
Trump starred on “The Apprentice” for 14 seasons, starting in 2004. The success of the show served as a launching pad for his presidential campaign. He considered running in 2011, as he initiated an effort to question then-President Barack Obama’s citizenship on the unfounded and discredited notion that he was really born in Kenya. Gerson and other critics labeled that effort as one example of “racial demagoguery.” Trump chose not to run that year, and NBC instead renewed his association with the show.
Trump was also a prolific donor to Democrats up until that point. He gave to Schumer’s campaign as recently as 2009, according to the Federal Election Commission records, and to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The story of what was said during the immigration meeting continued later on Tuesday, as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. She said that she did not hear the word “shithole” used, but said, “I don’t dispute that the president was using tough language. Others in the room were also using tough language.”