Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

The pastor of a historically black church in Maryland blasted the President for his denigrating comments about African countries while Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence were reportedly in attendance, according to local media and The Associated Press.

Maurice Watson, the pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Largo, Maryland, said Sunday he felt “led by God” to denounce President Donald Trump’s “shithole” remarks about African countries.

“I stand today as your pastor to vehemently denounce and reject any such characterizations of the nations of Africa and our brothers and sisters in Haiti,” Watson said, according to a video posted on the church’s Facebook page.

Pastor Watson's Statement on the President's Remarks on Haiti and Africa

I stand today as your Pastor to vehemently denounce and reject such characterizations of the nations of Africa and our brothers and sisters in Haiti.

Posted by Metropolitan Baptist Church on Sunday, January 14, 2018

Last week, Trump reportedly asked lawmakers in a bipartisan meeting discussing immigration reform why the U.S. needs more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” like those in Africa, The Washington Post first reported and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who attended the meeting, later confirmed. Trump also said he would rather have more immigrants from Norway.

Trump has denied he made those remarks, but did admit to using “tough” language in his attempts to push for a merit-based immigration system. He later said Durbin “misrepresented” his remarks.

A local news outlet, WUSA-TV, reported that Pence appeared agitated and got red in the face during the sermon, but his office denied those reports to The Associated Press Monday.

H/t: The Huffington Post

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President Donald Trump’s comments about “shithole countries” have set off a global furor and put American and foreign diplomats in the hot seat.

State Department officials were reportedly scrambling Friday to give diplomats guidance on how to affirm the United States’ commitment to their host countries, CNN reported.

The Botswana government summoned its U.S. ambassador “to clarify whether Botswana is regarded as a “shithole” country,” The Washington Post reported.

And Haitian ambassador Paul Altidor told MSNBC that Haiti believes Trump was “either misinformed or miseducated about Haiti and its people.”

Both Altidor and the government of Botswana released statements condemning the comments and asking U.S. officials for a formal explanation of the remarks.

Nicholas Burns, a widely respected former top diplomat, tweeted:

Trump reportedly made the comments during a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers discussing immigration reform.

In addition, U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley announced his resignation on Thursday, hours before The New York Times and The Washington Post reported on Trump’s “shithole” remarks, according to reports from a local Panama newspaper. The career diplomat told the State Department that he no longer feels that he is able to serve under Trump, Reuters reported.

“As a junior foreign service officer, I signed an oath to serve faithfully the president and his administration in an apolitical fashion, even when I might not agree with certain policies,” Feeley, a former aide to Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, said in a resignation letter shared with Reuters. “My instructors made clear that if I believed I could not do that, I would be honor bound to resign. That time has come.”

Feeley will continue to serve in his Panama post until March 9, Reuters reported.

Other foreign officials like Hugo Martinez of El Salvador and representatives of the African National Congress are seeking an official response from U.S. authorities regarding Trump’s comments.

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A chorus of top civil rights leaders condemned President Donald Trump for his comments about “shithole countries” Friday, and called on Congress to use Trump’s outburst to pass a clean Dream Act “now.”

“I am condemning in the strongest terms the President’s outburst,” Vanita Gupta, who served as the Obama Justice Department’s top civil rights official and now heads the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told reporters during a press call Friday. “His words were racist, repugnant and reprehensible and they have no place in our political discourse.”

Gupta was joined by a slew of civil and immigrant rights leaders, who called on Congress to pass a fix for DACA and TPF recipients by the Jan. 19 deadline.

Trump reportedly made the vulgar comments during a bipartisan discussion on immigration reform at the White House Thursday. He has denied making the comments, but Sen. Dick Durbin confirmed that he did.

Jonathan Jayes-Green, the co-founder and director, Undocublack Network said Trump’s comments “reflect a deeply rotten and racist soul.”

Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project called Trump’s policy priorities, as well as his remarks, demonstrative of “a racial purge that this president is calling for.”

The outcry from national civil rights organizations follows a short chorus of condemnations from Republicans and widespread fury from Democrats in Congress who have called Trump’s remarks “vile” and “divisive.”

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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) confirmed Friday that President Donald Trump did refer to Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries” during a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers discussing immigration reform Thursday.

Trump had denied using the word “shithole.”

“He used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from shitholes,” Durbin told reporters Friday morning. “The exact word used by the President. Not just once, but repeatedly.”

“He said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist,” Durbin continued. “I use those words advisably, I understand how powerful they are. … You’ve seen the comments in the press. I’ve not read one of them that’s inaccurate.”

“To no surprise, the President started tweeting this morning, denying that he used those words,” Durbin said. “It is not true. He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly.”

Durbin said Trump not only called countries in Africa “shithole(s),” but also that he asked, “do we need more Haitians?” That was during a discussion of groups that have temporary protected status in the U.S. due to disasters or political upheaval in their home countries.

Durbin is the first member of Congress to publicly confirm that the President used the term “shithole.”

Trump had tweeted Friday morning denying he used that specific word.

In a statement Thursday evening, the White House did not challenge reports from The Washington Post and The New York Times about Trump’s language, but rather defended the President’s stance on striking merit-based immigration deal with lawmakers.

White House sources have also told reporters off the record that they think the President’s comments will please his base.

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Suggesting he may be open to diplomatic talks with North Korea, President Donald Trump told The Wall Street Journal Thursday that he “probably” has a “very good relationship” with Kim Jong-un, despite months of public feuds with the nation’s rogue leader.

“I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised,” he told the WSJ in a wide-ranging interview from the Oval Office published Thursday. “You’ll see that a lot with me … and then all of a sudden, somebody’s my best friend. I could give you 20 examples. You could give me 30. I’m a very flexible person.”

The comments follow months of mounting tensions between Trump and Kim as the North Korean leader tests global patience with his development of a nuclear arsenal. Trump has called Kim a “maniac,” “short and fat” and “rocket man,” while Kim has taken to labeling Trump the “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

Despite efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump has been noncommittal on whether he believes diplomatic discussions with North Korea will force Kim’s hand in ending the development of his nuclear program. In October, Tillerson said a line of communication had been opened between the U.S. and North Korea. Trump responded by undercutting his secretary of state, saying Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”

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The Haitian government is taking formal steps to condemn President Donald Trump’s labeling of the country as a “shithole” by summoning a U.S. official to explain the remarks, MSNBC reported.

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor, reportedly told MSNBC that the Haitian government was shocked by the remarks, which he said he believes Trump made “based on stereotypes.”

“Either the President has been misinformed or he is miseducated,” Altidor reportedly told MSNBC’s Yamiche Alcindor.

The response follows comments Trump made during immigration reform discussions with lawmakers, when he reportedly questioned why the United States allows immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti and African countries to come to the U.S., The Washington Post and The New York Times reported Thursday. In a statement released Thursday, the White House did not deny Trump’s comments, but rather defended the President’s stance on a merit-based immigration deal.

“President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement.

H/t The Daily Beast

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During a White House press briefing Thursday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders used the podium to tell CNN’s Jim Acosta that his network’s “numbers would be higher” if President Trump watched CNN.

“I’m sure you are disappointed he’s not watching CNN,” Sanders said, responding to Acosta’s questions about the President’s habit of watching “Fox and Friends” and responding to that show’s reports on Twitter.

On Thursday, Trump’s cryptic tweet about the administration’s stance on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act appeared to be fueled by a discussion on “Fox and Friends,” where personality Andrew Napolitano was skeptical of the President’s support of reauthorizing the FISA Act.

“I think he watches a lot of CNN, if you don’t mind me saying it,” Acosta said.

“I don’t think that’s true, your numbers would be higher,” Sanders responded, before defending Trump’s contradictory tweets, giving a similar line that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) offered earlier Thursday — that Trump was alluding to his concerns over domestic surveillance, rather than Section 702 of the law, which focuses on the surveillance of foreign targets.

On Thursday afternoon, the House voted to renew Section 702 of the FISA Act and added a provision that would require the FBI to get a warrant before it could view the contents of Americans’ communication with foreign targets.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) came to President Trump’s defense on Thursday over the President’s comments about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Insisting that “everybody knows” that Trump has concerns with “other parts” of FISA than what the House voted to renew Thursday, Ryan defended Trump’s familiarity with FISA despite the President’s contradictory tweets.

“It is well-known that he has concerns about the domestic FISA law. That’s not what we’re doing today. Today was 702, a different part,” he said during a press conference Thursday. “Today has to do with foreign terrorists on foreign soil. He knows that and he put out something that I think clarified that. His administration’s position has been clear from day one, which is 702 is really important, it’s gotta be renewed.”

On Thursday, the House renewed Section 702 of FISA, which will extend for six years the government’s ability to collect the communications of foreign targets located abroad from U.S. companies. The measure also allowed for surveillance of Americans’ communications with foreign targets. A bipartisan group of lawmakers attempted to derail the vote on Thursday by proposing an amendment that would prioritize the privacy of U.S. citizens. On Wednesday evening, the White House put out a statement expressing the administration’s opposition to the bipartisan effort.

On Thursday morning, Trump appeared to break with his administration, posting a tweet calling FISA “controversial” and questioning whether it was used to justify previous administration’s “abuse” of his campaign. He was likely referencing unfounded claims he made this past spring, accusing former President Barack Obama of “wire tapping” Trump Tower.

After his first tweet, Trump reportedly spoke with Ryan, NBC and The Washington Post reported. Trump later posted a second tweet, clarifying his support for the reauthorization that passed Thursday.

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Arizona Senate candidate and former controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio still does not believe in the authenticity of former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

During an interview with CNN Wednesday night, host Chris Cuomo asked Arpaio whether he still believes the former President was not born in the United States. Arpaio has been a prominent birther for years, perpetuating false claims that Obama was not born in the U.S. and questioning the authenticity of his birth certificate.

“I started this because of a fake document,” he said. “I didn’t care where the President came from, I didn’t care at all and we had the evidence. Nobody will talk about it, nobody will look at it. And anytime you want to come down, or anybody, we’ll be glad to show you the evidence. And by the way, you’re going to hear more about this fake, phony birth certificate.”

Arpaio said he still has “no doubt” that Obama has a phony birth certificate. 

While the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate is indisputable, Arpaio’s birtherism claims aren’t a fringe opinion. President Donald Trump was a vocal birther for years before he unequivocally proclaimed that Obama was born in the United States during the 2016 campaign.

The New York Times reported in November that Trump still privately questions whether Obama was born in the United States.

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Some Democratic members of Congress are planning to wear black and invite survivors of sexual assault to President Trump’s State of the Union address later this month to bring attention to the issue, NBC reported Thursday.

Each lawmaker gets one ticket to invite a guest to the address, and guests are seated in the gallery above the House floor. There’s some tension within the Democratic Party over whether such a move would politicize the topic, rather than address sexual misconduct, according to sources familiar with the discussions who spoke with NBC.

The move resembles those made by Trump leading up to the election when he invited the women who accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct to a debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

One Democrat told NBC that their party would be “no better” than Republicans if they pulled a similar stunt at the State of the Union address, given the fact that multiple women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. Trump has denied all those claims.

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