WASHINGTON ― Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) tore into Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Tuesday, calling her “complicit” in President Donald Trump’s bigotry for saying she doesn’t remember his making racist comments about Africa and Haiti in a recent White House meeting.
Nielsen, who was testifying under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the panel she didn’t recall the president calling Africa a “shithole” or asking why the U.S. needs more Haitian residents, expressing instead a preference for immigrants from Norway. The White House hasn’t denied those comments, and Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who were in the meeting, have publicly confirmed them.
Nielsen said she may not have heard the remarks because senators were talking over each other and making it hard to hear. Booker didn’t buy it.
“I’ve got a president of the United States whose office I respect, who talks about the country’s origins of my fellow citizens in the most despicable manner. You don’t remember? You can’t remember the words of your commander in chief?” asked the New Jersey senator. “I find that unacceptable.”
Booker, who joined the Judiciary Committee only last week and is just its second-ever African-American member, said he had “tears of rage” when he heard what the president had said. It made him think about the time his family was denied housing for being black, he said.
“Why am I, frankly, seething with anger? … You’re under oath. You and others in that room suddenly cannot remember?” Booker said. “The idea that the commander in chief of this country can, with broad brushes, talk about certain nations and thus cast a shadow over the millions of Americans who are from those communities, and that you could even say in your testimony that Norwegians were preferences because they are so hard-working.”
“I didn’t say―,” Nielsen began.
“Excuse me,” the senator interrupted, his voice rising. “Let me finish.”
Booker, who may be eyeing a 2020 presidential run, said tens of millions of Americans are worried about the racism coming out of the White House and asked Nielsen why she wasn’t doing more to stem an uptick in white supremacist violence in the country. He cited quotes by Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Elie Wiesel about the dangers of staying quiet in the face of bigotry and hatred before turning back to Nielsen.
“Your silence and your amnesia is complicity,” Booker told her.
After that hung in the air for a bit, the homeland security secretary said she abhors violence “in all its forms.”
Catch some of Booker’s remarks above.