U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham didn't directly confirm President Donald Trump's use of the term "shithole countries" but did say Friday that he made his feelings known to the president about something negative he'd uttered.
“Following comments by the president, I said my piece directly to him yesterday," Graham said in a statement.
"The president and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel," he added. "I’ve always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals."
A day after Trump is alleged to have used the comments during a bipartisan White House meeting on immigration, questions rekindled anew of whether the president is a racist, especially as his words were reportedly directed at people from Africa, Haiti and El Salvador.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a ranking member of Democratic House leadership and the Congressional Black Caucus, said he will pursue a censure resolution against the president next week.
"I am hopeful that we will do that and get bipartisan support for it," Clyburn said on CNN. "The president is the commander in chief, and this is the kind of conduct that would be 'unbecoming of an officer.' "
Few Republicans defended the president's remarks, and party leaders were silent most of Friday. Graham did not respond until the afternoon.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told an audience in Milwaukee that Trump's comments were "very unfortunate, unhelpful" but quickly changed the topic to his own family's history of emigrating from Ireland.
He called immigration "a beautiful story of America" and said Africans in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., are "incredible citizens."
Meanwhile, spokesmen for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. — who was at the Oval Office session — declined to comment.
Some argued the comment was an unvarnished statement on the economic blight in some regions of the world, not an expression of a racial preference.
Others said Trump was voicing views held quietly by many.
Trump said during the 2016 campaign that he was the "least racist person there is." He also denied, by way of Twitter, ever saying "shithole countries."
The comment was first reported by The Washington Post on Thursday, citing two sources.
Graham, in the Oval Office meeting to try to sell the president on a compromise plan to protect about 800,000 mostly younger immigrants from deportation, chimed in at the meeting to defend immigrants.
One senator who was present at the White House and said he did hear the remarks, Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin, said Friday that Graham challenged Trump on his use of the slur.
Durbin told MSNBC that Graham objected to the president's phrasing.
"My colleague (Sen. Graham) spoke up and made a direct comment on what the president said," Durbin said.
Durbin added, "For him to confront the president as he did, literally sitting next to him, took extraordinary political courage and I respect him for it."
Graham only acknowledged he appreciated Durbin’s statements and has enjoyed "working with him and many others on this important issue. I believe it is vitally important to come to a bipartisan solution to the immigration and border challenges we face today."
Graham also reportedly confirmed hearing Trump's racially charged remark in a conversation with fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott.
Reached Friday at a Samsung appliance plant opening in Newberry, Scott said that Graham told him the comments, as reported in the media, were “basically accurate.”
“If that comment is accurate, the comment is incredibly disappointing,” Scott told The Post and Courier.
“We ought not to disparage any other nation, frankly," he added. "Thinking about the success of America. It is the melting pot. It’s the ability to weave together multiple communities together for one nation.”
Durbin said Trump repeated the comment more than once.
"The president started tweeting this morning, denying that he used those words. It is not true. He said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly," Durbin said.
Trump's tweet said he "never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country" and "I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians."
Graham's statement said the American ideal is embraced all over the globe.
"It was best said a long time ago, E Pluribus Unum — Out of Many, One," it read. "Diversity has always been our strength, not our weakness. In reforming immigration we cannot lose these American Ideals."
Meanwhile, local civil rights representatives denounced both Trump's words and criticized Graham, Scott, and Charleston and North Charleston mayors John Tecklenburg and Keith Summey, respectively, for not speaking out forcefully against the president.
"The people of South Carolina want to hear Lindsey Graham denounce the president and his words," said James Johnson, state president for the National Action Network in the Palmetto State. "Tim Scott, his words are lukewarm."
Activists are planning a rally Monday in Marion Square following the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in downtown Charleston to protest Trump, Scott and Graham, Johnson said.
The Associated Press and Gregory Yee contributed to this report.