Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday that she did not specifically hear President Donald Trump use the word "s—hole" to refer to African countries, although she said he used "tough language."
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) said Trump's reported language at a bipartisan meeting in the Oval Office was one of the most racist things he has ever heard any president utter.
Leahy asked Nielsen, who was in the meeting, if she heard him say that or anything similar.
"I did not hear that word used. No, sir," Nielsen said.
"That's not the question. Did he use anything similar to that describing certain countries?" Leahy asked.
"The conversation was very impassioned. I don't dispute that the president was using tough language," she said. "Others in the room were also using tough language."
Nielsen went on to say the context of the debate was Trump's desire to move toward a merit-based immigration system.
"Did he use what would be considered vulgar language referring to certain countries?" Leahy asked.
"The president used tough language in general, as did other congressmen in the room," she said.
The controversy over Trump's reported remark last Thursday has stretched into this week as Congress faces yet another budget showdown. While Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) said Trump made the comment and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) reportedly confronted Trump about it directly, Sens. David Perdue (R., Ga.) and Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) have defended the president, saying his meaning and words were not reported correctly.
Trump has also denied making the remarks and charges that he is a racist.