Republicans are suddenly divided over whether to come to the defense of President Donald Trump as he continues to reel from accusations that he said he didn't want immigrants coming to the United States from certain non-white "s**thole" countries.
"I'm telling you he did not use that word, George, and I'm telling you it's a gross misrepresentation," Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "The Week" on Sunday. Purdue was blaming Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who attended the meeting and claimed to have personally heard Trump refer to African nations as "s**thole countries," and saying he'd prefer to have immigrants from Norway.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, another close Trump ally, echoed Perdue's position during an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.
"I didn't hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was," Cotton told CBS.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was another defender of the president, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" to insist that Trump couldn't be a racist because of work he had done to help Haiti in the past.
"I don’t think the comments were constructive at all, but I also think that, to be fair, we shouldn’t draw conclusions that he didn’t intend," Paul told "Meet the Press."
He added, "I think it’s unfair to sort of paint him, ‘oh well, he’s a racist,’ when I know for a fact that he cares very deeply about the people of Haiti because he helped finance a trip where they would get vision back for 200 people in Haiti."
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen also defended Trump, telling Fox News on Sunday that it was offensive to imply that the president's remarks were racist.
"I take a little bit of offense to the comments and suggestions that the president is racist," Nielsen told Fox News. "What he's looking at is the exact merit-based system we have in Australia and Canada. I’m sure that we are not, any of us, suggesting that Canada and Australia and their leaders are racists."
Other Republicans have confirmed that Trump used that language. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told another senator that the descriptions of Trump's language were "basically accurate." Similarly Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said on Sunday that people who had been at the meeting told him about Trump's language immediately afterward, stating that, "I heard that account before the account even went public."
In addition to the moral implications of attaching a stigma to immigrants from certain countries, there is also the risk that Trump's rhetoric could convince the next generation of talent to stay away from America.
"The people that you're sending back, all right, this is not on their will. Right? This was on their parents' will. So you might be sending back the next Steve Jobs without you knowing it, the next Wyclef Jean," rapper Wyclef Jean told Salon Talks in September.