Sen. David Perdue told Newsmax TV Friday that "I honestly don't remember" the reported words "s***hole countries" used by President Donald Trump to describe certain countries in a meeting Thursday on immigration reform.
"I honestly don't remember that word being used," the first-term Georgia Republican told Newsmax TV's John Bachman in an exclusive interview, "but I do remember the conversation about what's wrong with the current immigration system.
"It doesn't protect American workers or our national interest."
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Perdue then responded "no" when Bachman asked whether the president had used the derogatory term for Africa, Haiti and El Salvador, "and I'm telling you there were other members that we checked our own stories.
"I'm not the only one that doesn't remember that being said."
Perdue, 68, was among three Republicans in the bipartisan meeting with at the White House with Trump and three Democrats to discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and other immigration issues.
President Trump reportedly grew frustrated when lawmakers proposed restoring protections for immigrants from the countries.
"Why are we having all these people from s***hole countries come here?" Trump said, The Washington Post reported, citing two unnamed sources briefed on the meeting.
Trump denied using the vulgar term Friday — saying on Twitter that "the language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used."
Perdue and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said in a statement earlier Friday that "we do not recall the president saying these comments specifically."
But South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the other GOP member at the session, said in a statement Friday that "I said my piece directly" to Trump "following comments by the president."
But Graham did not say whether the president used the words "s***hole countries."
One Democrat at the meeting, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, bashed Trump — saying Friday that he "repeatedly" used "hate-filled, vile and racist" language about immigrants from those countries.
Perdue declined to comment on the statements from Graham and Durbin, but he told Bachman: "That's not the issue here.
"The issue is really that the American people deserve to have a solution to this immigration crisis.
"We have a situation that future immigrants are determined by only one group of people — and that's current immigrants.
"That's not against any standard of measure of whether it be helpful to grow the economy or helpful for American interest.
"It really is simply a measure of family relationships," Perdue said. "There's got to be a better balance between protecting relationships and getting the economy going."
Last September, Perdue and Cotton proposed the RAISE Act, which would put the United States on a merit-based immigration system similar to Canada and Australia.
"We can solve the DACA issue, but we've got to have some structural changes to how people come into the country," Perdue told Bachman. "We believe the first thing we need to do is fix the legal immigration system.
"This is an economic issue, as well as a social and political issue," he said.
Key to any reform would be ending chain migration, Perdue said, as well as funding a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
President Trump has asked Congress for $18 billion for the first phase of the wall, for which Mexican officials have said they will not pay.
"We don't know the total cost," Perdue told Bachman. "It's going to be somewhere between $15 billion and $20 billion.
"The president thinks we can get a lot of that done in one year and I agree with him.
"In the business sense, I think we could go and get a lot of this done — and we need to," he said. "It's a national security issue."
In his exclusive Newsmax TV interview, Perdue also said:
- The biggest threat to the national security is the U.S. debt, echoing Defense Secretary James Mattis. "It doesn't allow us to rebuild our military."
- North Korea's EMP satellite bomb could "shut down the infrastructure" of the United States.
- President Donald Trump granted Iran sanctions relief to give Tehran "one last chance to see if we can change their behavior."
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