The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Sens. Cotton and Perdue are outed for lying on Trump’s behalf

Some lawmakers denied President Trump called Haiti, El Salvador and African nations "shithole countries" in a bipartisan meeting on Jan. 11. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

There is no honor among anti-immigrant advocates and liars, I suppose. After dutifully lying on behalf of the president regarding his abhorrent language (“shithole countries”), Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) were outed by the White House. The Post reports:

Three White House officials said Perdue and Cotton told the White House that they heard “shithouse” rather than “shithole,” allowing them to deny the president’s comments on television over the weekend. The two men initially said publicly that they could not recall what the president said.

Not only did these two repeatedly lie, but Cotton also impugned the integrity of Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who told the truth. Asked whether the accusation that Trump spoke the offending words or the sentiment was phony, Cotton lied, “Yes.” He went on to say, “Senator Durbin has misrepresented what happened in White House meetings before, and he was corrected by Obama administration officials by it.”

Honorable men would resign after such a remarkable revelation of their crummy character; neither Cotton nor Perdue will. We still await the appearance of a single staffer of either who would quit in protest.

The Trump administration, in its own words

The incident is telling in many respects, but none more important for Republicans than this: They can lie and enable the president hoping to score brownie points, but this White House won’t repay loyalty in kind. Instead, Republicans will find themselves humiliated.

So to recap: The president described a preference for Norwegian (i.e. white) immigrants over those from “shithole” countries (African nations). He gave the Congressional Black Caucus the back of the hand. (“At one point, Durbin told the president that members of that caucus — an influential House group — would be more likely to agree to a deal if certain countries were included in the proposed protections, according to people familiar with the meeting. Trump was curt and dismissive, saying he was not making immigration policy to cater to the CBC and did not particularly care about that bloc’s demands, according to people briefed on the meeting. ‘You’ve got to be joking,’ one adviser said, describing Trump’s reaction.”) He blew up a possible deal on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, bragged about his actions to friends and then lied to the public about what he said. Two U.S. senators lied as well and then were double-crossed by White House aides.

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This raises several questions: Why should these Republicans hold elected office? Why should anyone believe them in the future? And lastly, what is the appropriate response to them?

Given that the two senators lied to the faces of interviewers on the Sunday talk shows, network bookers might consider never having them on air again. They are known prevaricators, so whatever they say on their shows cannot be relied upon as credible. News outlets should respect their viewers by denying airtime for those with so little respect for the truth.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) confirmed President Trump's use of “vile” language at a White House meeting on immigration Jan. 11. (Video: Reuters)

In addition, Durbin might consider filing ethics claims against both of the senators, seeking appropriate punishment by the Senate. The ethics committee has jurisdiction to consider “complaints and investigate allegations of improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate, violations of law, violations of the Senate Code of Official Conduct and violations of rules and regulations of the Senate, relating to the conduct of individuals in the performance of their duties as Members of the Senate, or as officers or employees of the Senate, and to make appropriate findings of fact and conclusions with respect thereto.” I cannot imagine that publicly impugning another member’s integrity for the purpose of sustaining a lie would not constitute “improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate.”

Democrats have every reason to shame and shun these two Republicans, who have behaved in such a nakedly partisan and dishonest fashion. I’d like to think that all senators would, but we already know how deep the tribal instinct runs.

As for Trump, the more details that emerge, the more nakedly racist and dishonest he appears. Under these circumstances, my suggestion about boycotting the State of the Union might actually catch on. Moreover, I don’t see any purpose in conducting in-person meetings with the president behind closed doors when he and Republican supplicants will lie about what goes on. Perhaps lawmakers should insist that all their interactions with the president be recorded so as to prevent more incidents such as this in the future.

Read more by Jennifer Rubin:

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Why it’s important to publicly shame Pence and others

‘Democracy is under assault,’ and it seems we’re not helping any

Morning Bits: The single best retort to Trump’s ‘hole’ comment

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