Rand Paul says it's 'unfair' to call Trump racist

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By Kailani Koenig  with NBC News
Image: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) appears on Meet the Press on Jan. 14, 2018.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) appears on Meet the Press on Jan. 14, 2018.   -  Copyright  NBC News

WASHINGTON — Sen. Rand Paul said Sunday that it is "unfair" to call President Donald Trump a racist but said his recently reported controversial comments about immigrants from Haiti and African countries are unhelpful.

"I don't think the comments were constructive at all, but I also think that, to be fair, we shouldn't draw conclusions that he didn't intend," the Kentucky Republican said on "Meet The Press."

Paul defended the president as one of the financial backers ofa medical trip Paul was part of to offer eye care and surgeries to people in Haiti in 2015.

"I think it's unfair to sort of paint him, 'oh well, he's a racist,' when I know for a fact that he cares very deeply about the people of Haiti because he helped finance a trip where they would get vision back for 200 people in Haiti," Paul said.

During a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers on immigration on Thursday, Trump reportedly questioned why the United States was accepting some immigrants from Haiti and nations in Africa — rather than allowing more immigrants from places like Norway, according to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who was in the meeting. The president reportedly referred to African nations as "shithole countries."

Trump denied saying anything derogatory during that meeting, writing on Twitter, "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used." He particularly defended his comments on Haiti.

Other GOP senators in the meeting have disputed Durbin's recollection. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., called Durbin's assertion a "gross misrepresentation" during an interview on ABC, and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said on CBS, "I didn't hear it, and I was sitting no further from President Trump than Dick Durbin was."

However, Sen. Lindsey Graham, also in the meeting,reportedly told fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott that the reports about Trump's comments were "basically accurate."

"Some people in the media have gone completely bonkers" over the remarks, Paul said on Sunday.

"You can't have an immigration compromise if everybody is out there calling the president a racist," he added.

Civil rights pioneer Andrew Young, also appearing on Sunday's "Meet The Press," resisted calling the president "racist" as well.

"It doesn't help to label people," he said. "You know, you don't help someone who has an alcohol problem by constantly calling him a drunk. You have to deal with the sickness. And I don't even want to use the term sickness in a moral sense. We're part of an extremely confusing time."

Young, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, mayor of Atlanta, and Democratic congressman from Georgia, said the president "has a very good education in business, but probably not very good in history."

Trump's reported comments this week came just as members of Congress have been feverishly working toward getting a compromise on immigration that would reconcile increased funding for border security with safety for recipients of DACA — the Obama-era program that allowed the children of undocumented immigrants, known as "Dreamers," a way to stay in the country without fear of deportation.

One those lawmakers working toward a deal is Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who said on "Meet The Press" that Trump "doesn't seem to appreciate the contributions that immigrants have given to this country."

But Bennet wouldn't go as far as labeling the president "racist," saying he was raised on the theory that the label would make it impossible to rehabilitate someone. Still, Bennet added, "there's no question what [the president] said was racist" and that "this is a trying time in our country."

Bennet is part of a group of bipartisan senators who announced on Thursday that they reached a deal that would incorporate four issues the White House wanted to include: DACA, border security, chain migration, and the visa lottery system.

Their bill deals with each of those issues Trump prioritized, the senator said, "because it's a recognition that he was elected president of the United States."

Paul on Sunday said he could support legislation where "the Dreamers are going to get naturalized, but there's going to have to be something for border security and it has to be real and it has to be significant."

Government funding is set to run out on Jan. 19, and numerous Democrats have threatened to withhold their votes to continue funding if a deal to address the future of DACA recipients isn't reached.

"It should not come to that," Bennet said when asked if he would withhold his vote to fund the government if a compromise is not reached.