Rep. Chris Collins told a national television audience Tuesday that President Trump is not a racist.
He said the senators who said that Trump identified Haiti and African nations as "(expletive deleted) countries" should be ashamed of themselves for publicizing the details of a private White House meeting on immigration issues.
Collins – a Clarence Republican and one of Trump's most ardent defenders – went on CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time" program and reflected not only on the firestorm over the White House meeting Thursday, but the larger issue prompting it: the fate of more than 700,000 young people brought to America illegally by their parents.
"It's disappointing that anyone would leave a private meeting and politicize that, and certainly a lot of that language was denied," Collins said. "All I know is this is a president who is not a racist, who cares about the young people who are here now, who have lived here most of their lives. He will be generous and compassionate with them, but he needs what he needs on the (border) wall, on border security. That's a reasonable compromise."
Collins had much harsher words for Sen. Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who spoke out about Trump's comment, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who privately confirmed Trump's use of that term to colleagues.
"It's political," Collins told CNN host Chris Cuomo. "When you have a private meeting and somebody like Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham at the end of the meeting can't wait to grab a microphone, shame on them for that."
Collins, who frequently goes on network television to defend Trump, had said little about the controversy until Tuesday's CNN appearance.
There, Collins also said: "What I've heard is there was a lot of harsh language at that meeting. I certainly was not there."
Collins told Cuomo that the House is moving toward another temporary bill to fund the government from this Friday – when an earlier temporary measure expires – and Feb. 16. That deal would not include a solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Obama-era program that granted those young immigrants temporary legal status.
"We can't get it done by Friday," Collins said, of a permanent solution for the DACA program, which, under a Trump decision, will expire March 5 unless Congress acts.
Collins took a much softer line on Trump than did Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who appeared on the CNN show before Collins did.
Booker said he had no doubt Trump used the term, given that Durbin and Graham – two highly respected senators – confirmed it.
"It's not the vulgarity" that's troubling, Booker said. "It's the bigotry and discrimination that comes from the mouth of the president."