By Joseph Morton
WASHINGTON — Complicated negotiations over immigration policy will only get tougher in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s reported comments questioning why the United States should accept immigrants coming from “s—hole” countries.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters Friday that he would not have made the comments and pointed to the harm they could cause to those ongoing discussions.
Trump was described as making the remarks as two lawmakers detailed a bipartisan compromise that, among other things, would extend protections for immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs.
Grassley, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he wasn’t at the meeting and knows only what news accounts have said about Trump’s comments.
“But I think I better just say that those aren’t words that I would use and I think that you ought to consider all of humanity humanity and treat them accordingly,” Grassley said.
The language, he said, “detracts from the issues, the very important issues of DACA and border security and chain migration and diversity, and we ought to keep our eye on the ball and those four things are what the ball is.”
The president’s words brought swift denunciations from Midlands Democrats running for office. They called on Republicans to respond in kind, but most GOP lawmakers seemed reluctant to engage.
In response to a World-Herald question, Sen. Joni Ernst spokeswoman Brook Hougesen, for example, said the Iowa Republican “was not in the room and cannot confirm what was said,” before adding that America is a nation of immigrants and the senator will continue working with colleagues to “find a path forward.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., declined to comment on Trump’s remarks, while Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jane Raybould, a Democrat seeking to challenge Fischer in the upcoming midterm election, issued a press release calling on the senator to denounce Trump’s comments.
“There is a deficiency of moral leadership in Washington, D.C. We are all left questioning Senator Fischer’s judgment when she does not speak out in response to an atrocious comment such as this. Every Nebraskan knows that the President’s comments are not only inappropriate but hateful and have no place in our state, in our nation and especially in our government.”
Former Rep. Brad Ashford and nonprofit executive Kara Eastman are vying to be the Democratic challenger to Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., this year. Both called on the incumbent to condemn the comments.
“I condemn the president’s racist, degrading remarks that lower the dignity of the office in a profound way,” Eastman said in a statement.
Ashford wrote on Twitter that the comments crossed every civilized line. “This is something as Americans we should all agree on! This is lunacy!”
In a statement to the World-Herald, Bacon said: “We do not know for sure what the president said yesterday. However, if he said as reported, I find them inappropriate and disrespectful.”
Bacon related a story about his father taking in a Vietnamese refugee who “became my brother.”
In reference to Trump, Bacon added that “comments such as these undermine meaningful immigration reform, border security, visa reform, and a long-term approach for DACA recipients and those affected by TPS. We should be working on finding constructive solutions to immigration and border security.”
Cole Staudt, a spokesman for Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, said the congressman was asked about the issue at a town hall meeting in Afton and he responded that Trump’s comments were wrong.
“He hopes the comments won’t derail finding an agreement and solution on addressing the DACA and border security issue, but that we need to continue pushing forward to not just striking a deal but to ensure we find a solution to these problems so they do not occur again,” Staudt said.
Reps. Adrian Smith and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., did not immediately respond to World-Herald requests for comment.
Dennis Crawford, a Democrat seeking to challenge Fortenberry, called on the incumbent to condemn the remarks and demand an apology. “Anything less than that from Mr. Fortenberry is moral cowardice. We deserve better from our elected representatives in Washington.”
Trump’s reported comments did earn him a positive review from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, an immigration hard-liner who has stirred controversy repeatedly over the years with his own comments about immigration.
“Hang in there Mr. President @realDonaldTrump,” King tweeted. “If those countries aren’t as you described, Democrats should be happy to deport criminal aliens back to them. &End #AnchorBabies, too.”