After President Donald Trump reportedly referred to African countries that benefit from the U.S. visa lottery program as “shitholes,” House Speaker Paul Ryan lightly rebuked the president on Friday, calling the comments “very unfortunate” and “unhelpful.”
Ryan was asked about the comments ― in a roundabout way, with a moderator at a University of Wisconsion-Milwaukee event refusing to use the word “shithole” ― and while he did ding Trump for those remarks, Ryan avoided any pointed criticism and said Republicans were still focused on a deal to legislatively codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program.
When the moderator pressed Ryan on how lawmakers could find a deal when Trump was making those sorts of comments, Ryan said, “We just have to get it done.”
Ryan didn’t issue a statement on Trump’s comments, and when he was asked about what Trump said Thursday, Ryan joked that Trump “said a lot of things yesterday, which one are you talking about?”
When the moderator clarified that he was referring to “a word I can’t mention” about African countries, Ryan said he was focused on other issues on Thursday and read those comments later at night.
Ryan’s response to Trump’s comments was telling because it was mostly about him. The remark was “unhelpful” to him. And Ryan said he immediately thought about oppression his family had faced.
“First thing that came to my mind was, very unfortunate, unhelpful,” Ryan said. “But you know what I thought of right away? I thought of my own family.”
Ryan said his family came from Ireland to the United States, worked manual labor jobs, and faced discrimination.
“The Irish were really looked down upon back in those days. I hear all these stories from my relatives about ‘Irish need not apply,’” he said.
He then said their story of overcoming that oppression was “a beautiful story of America.”
Ryan made no mention of how someone from one of these African countries might feel today after the president of the United States called their country, indiscriminately, a “shithole,” and he made no mention of the worldview such a remark signifies.