WASHINGTON — The secretary of the Homeland Security Department testified under oath Tuesday that she "did not hear" President Donald Trump use a certain vulgarity to describe African countries. But she says she doesn't "dispute the president was using tough language."
Trump has been accused of using the word "shithole" to describe African countries during an Oval Office meeting Thursday with a bipartisan group of six senators.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, was asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., specifically if she heard the vulgarity used or a "substantially similar word" to describe certain countries.
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Nielsen said the conversation was impassioned and the president was using tough language. She added that "others in the room were also using tough language."
Nielsen acknowledged the president might have used the s-word.
"Anything is possible. Yes, mam," Nielsen said in response to a question from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., about whether Trump might have used the slur without Nielsen hearing it.
"I find it absolutely hard to believe that she does not remember the language used by the President of the United States of America," Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said after the hearing.
Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is standing by his description of last week's White House immigration meeting at which he and others have said Trump used "shithole" when speaking about African nations.
Asked Tuesday about Trump and some Republicans challenging his honesty, Durbin told reporters, "Politics ain't beanbag. I understand that. But I'll tell you this: I stand by every word I said about what was said and what happened."
The Illinois Democrat also said he and a handful of other senators who crafted a bipartisan immigration deal are working to win over additional supporters. Trump and some Republicans have said the senators' agreement is insufficient.
For her part, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump is "not going to apologize for trying to fix our immigration system," as the fall-out continued from the president's reported use of the vulgarity.
Responding to Democrats' assertions that Trump's comments were "racist," Sanders called the claim "outrageous," citing their previous embrace of Trump. She said: "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?"