Republicans Have a New Strategy for Trump’s “Shithole”: Play Dumb

But voters don’t seem to be buying it.

It would be a difficult task for any Republican to defend President Donald Trump amid the intense backlash over his recent remarks referring to African nations as “shitholes.”

But while most Republicans have remained silent on the controversy, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) on Sunday fumbled into an awkward defense of the president when she offered Norway as an example of a country Trump is standing up for.

“He is standing up for a lot of the countries that where we have seen some…” Ernst said in response to a woman’s criticism that Trump is causing damage to American allies with his “white supremacy talk.”

“Could you name a few?” one audience member asked.

 “Yeah, you bet,” Ernst said. “Norway is one them.” (During the same immigration meeting, Trump reportedly asked why the United States doesn’t have more immigrants from countries such as Norway.)

The room erupted in laughter.

“You know you laugh, but folks, who borders Norway? Russia!” Ernst continued.

On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen—who was in the room during Trump’s reported “shithole” remarks last week—testified under oath that she did not know if Norway was a predominantly white country. She also claimed that the president was referencing a merit-based immigration system.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J) slammed Nielsen for telling senators that she did not hear Trump use the word “shithole” as widely reported and confirmed by lawmakers in the room last week. “Your silence and your amnesia is complicity,” Booker said.

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  • Inae Oh is the associate news editor at Mother Jones. Follow her on Twitter.