Sen. Rand Paul came to President Donald Trump’s defense Sunday, arguing it is unfair to label Trump a racist over reported comments about immigration from "shithole" countries.
"I don’t think the comments were constructive at all," Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, said on NBC’s "Meet the Press." "But I also think that to be fair, we shouldn’t draw conclusions that he didn’t intend."
Trump’s racially charged comments during a meeting last week with lawmakers were reported to have been directed toward African countries, Haiti and El Salvador as he questioned why the U.S. doesn’t allow more people from countries like Norway.
Instead, Paul, an ophthalmologist, cited financial backing Trump provided for visits he and other surgeons made to Haiti and Central America to perform eye surgeries.
"I think it’s unfair then to sort of all of a sudden paint him, ‘Oh well, he’s a racist,’ when I for a fact, that he cares very deeply about the people in Haiti because he helped finance a trip where we were able to get vision back for 200 people in Haiti," Paul said.
The dust-up is "destroying the setting" for a potential immigration deal, the senator contended.
"You can’t have an immigration compromise if everybody’s out there calling the president a racist," Paul added. "They’re actually destroying the setting. And he’s a little bit of it, but both sides now are destroying the setting in which anything meaningful can happen on immigration."
Pressed by host Chuck Todd on the racial implications of Trump’s comments — that they could be read as wanting more white people than people of color to come to the U.S. — Paul argued the comments would’ve been less controversial if worded differently.
The controversy, he said, "gets into the valid legitimate debate over immigration as to how do we choose."
"Let’s take the whole scenario and put different words in there and let’s say, ‘We’d rather have people from economically prosperous countries than economically deprived countries.’ Or, ‘We realize that there are more problems in economically deprived countries, therefore there’s a bigger impetus for them to want to come,’" Paul said. "Then it wouldn’t have been so controversial."