When President Trump launched a hateful racist tirade in the White House on Thursday, what did Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas do?

We don’t know if the Republican senator, whose stock-in-trade is posturing as a tough guy, had the guts to stand up for basic decency. He’s not talking about his conduct in the meeting. Neither are Senator David Perdue, Representative Kevin McCarthy, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, or Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, who were also reportedly in the room.

They could have followed the lead of Senator Lindsey Graham who, according to meeting attendee Senator Dick Durbin, pushed back against Trump’s description of large parts of the developing world, including Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa, as “shitholes.” Graham obliquely confirmed his comments to Trump on Friday: “I said my piece directly to him yesterday,” the South Carolina Republican said. Good for him.


Trump’s bigoted rant, in which he wondered why the United States wasn’t taking in more immigrants from Norway (really), has attracted widespread condemnation, including from some Republicans. GOP critics include Representative Mia Love of Utah, Representative Barbara Comstock of Virginia, and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who bluntly called the president’s words “racist.” In addition to inflaming racial animus and offending millions of people across the world, the president’s words may complicate efforts to hammer out an immigration bill that protects unauthorized immigrants who were brought into the country as children.

Trump deserves all the backlash, and more. But the spineless Republicans at the meeting failed a serious test of character, and they ought to be held accountable too.

Cotton and Perdue issued a weasel-worded statement on Friday, saying “we do not recall the president saying these comments specifically.” Translated from Washington-ese, that means Trump indeed used racist language . The senators didn’t say what, if anything, they said in response.


Democratic Representative James Clyburn said Friday that he was pursuing a censure resolution against the president, and hoping for bipartisan support. “The president is the commander in chief, and this is [the] kind of conduct that would be ‘unbecoming of an officer,’ ” he said.

On a superficial level, a Congressional censure would be meaningless, since it carries no penalties. But symbolic gestures have a place, especially when the offense is also symbolic, and a vote would at least force Trump’s fellow Republicans to take a stand one way or another. Trump’s words offend the core values of America, and uttering them in the Oval Office is an affront. Congress should go on record that it rejects his words, and the ugly sentiment behind them.