On Monday, the Washington Post shed some light on how Senators Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, and David Perdue, of Georgia, felt able to assert that President Donald Trump had not referred to Africa as a collection of “shithole” countries—a comment that the White House itself did not, at first, bother to protest—and thus that those who said he did, including their fellow-senators, were liars. According to the Post, “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.” Is that how people sleep at night in Trump’s Washington? The stories that Republicans tell themselves to justify their partnership with, or obedience to, the President are not just absurd; they are pathetic. SpongeBob SquarePants would be laughed out of the Krusty Krab for telling them. And they are poisonous.
It should be clear that the house/hole distinction, should it even have existed, would not count as “allowing” Cotton and Perdue to deny the President’s remarks on any terms. But the ones on which they did so are particularly egregious, because they offered themselves as witnesses to other senators’ supposed dishonor. Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, had confirmed the reported phrase “shithole countries” publicly; Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, had backed up the press accounts more obliquely but unmistakably. Senator Tim Scott, his Republican colleague, who is African-American, told reporters that Graham had confirmed the essentials of the report to him; Graham didn’t dispute that. Graham had also publicly said that there was a racial aspect to the remarks, which he said he’d called the President on, saying, by his account, “America is an idea, not a race.” Graham also told the Charleston Post and Courier that he favored a merit-based immigration system—a phrase that Trump uses a great deal—“But when I say merit-based, I don’t mean just Europe.” The suggestion was that the President had a different view.
In contrast, Cotton, appearing on Sunday news programs, specifically disparaged Durbin’s credibility. “I didn’t hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was,” Cotton told John Dickerson on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And I know, and I know what Dick Durbin has said about the President’s repeated statements is incorrect.” He also said that Durbin had a history of dishonesty.