WASHINGTON — A Republican senator who attended a Thursday immigration meeting at the White House forcefully denied on Sunday that President Trump had used the phrase “shithole countries” in describing Haiti and African nations, saying a Democratic senator’s account of the session was “a gross misrepresentation.”
Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia, said on ABC’s “This Week” that Mr. Trump “did not use that word,” and accused Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, of distorting what the president had said at the meeting, which included more than a half-dozen lawmakers.
Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, joined Mr. Perdue later in the morning in questioning Mr. Durbin.
“I didn’t hear that word either,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was.”
Mr. Cotton said Mr. Durbin “has a history of misrepresenting what happens in White House meetings,” a comment that Mr. Perdue echoed in his interview Sunday morning.
Ben Marter, a spokesman for Mr. Durbin, immediately attacked their assertions.
“Credibility is something that’s built by being consistently honest over time,” Mr. Marter wrote on Twitter. “Senator Durbin has it. Senator Perdue does not. Ask anyone who’s dealt with both.”
The remarks by Mr. Perdue and Mr. Cotton were an escalation from a statement they released on Friday, when they said they did “not recall the president saying these comments specifically.”
They also appear to conflict with the account of Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who was at the Thursday meeting. Mr. Graham told a fellow South Carolina Republican, Senator Tim Scott, that reports in the news media of Mr. Trump’s language were “basically accurate.” The other lawmakers at the meeting, all Republicans, have either not discussed it publicly or made only vague comments.
The Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, who also sat in on the meeting, said on “Fox News Sunday” that she could not recall the president “saying that exact phrase.”
Mr. Durbin had told reporters on Friday that Mr. Trump had used the word “shithole” several times in front of the group during a discussion of a proposed bipartisan deal on immigration, and had said “things which were hate-filled, vile and racist.”
“I cannot believe that, in the history of the White House in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday,” Mr. Durbin said.
Mr. Graham had reportedly admonished the president during the meeting by telling him that “America is an idea, not a race.” And a number of top Senate Republicans joined Mr. Graham on Friday in pushing back against Mr. Trump’s comments.
On Sunday morning, Mr. Durbin returned to the issue when he responded to a tweet Mr. Trump had posted accusing Democrats of wanting only “to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military” in their discussions on immigration policy.
Mr. Durbin wrote, “Republicans and Democrats negotiated in good faith to reach a deal that gives you what you asked for in front of the country on Tuesday. It’s time to lead and support the bipartisan deal.”