Speaker Paul Ryan calls Pres. Trump’s immigrant remarks ‘unfortunate’ and ‘unhelpful’

MILWAUKEE -- A day after reports President Donald Trump used an insulting term to describe Haiti and African countries, the Speaker of the House offered his response.  U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R - Janesville) said the president's words reminded him of what his ancestors recalled hearing when they came to America.

Speaking Friday, January 12th at UWM's downtown location,  Ryan said Congress is working on a comprehensive immigration bill - one that includes protections for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients and increased border security measures. He admits efforts toward such a compromise were complicated by reports President Donald Trump referred to Haiti and African countries as "s***holes" during a meeting the day before.

"First thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate, unhelpful, but you know what I thought of right away? I thought about my own family," Ryan said.

Ryan said the President's reported remarks are similar to what his Irish ancestors encountered upon their arrival. He said immigration is and should continue to be central to the American experience.

"I think it's a big part of our strength, whether you're coming from Haiti -- we've got great friends from Africa in Janesville who are doctors who are incredible citizens," Ryan said. "I think it's important we celebrate that."

Ryan said he wants immigration reform to focus not on the applicant's country but on what abilities they bring.

"So that the visas are not given based on, you know, relations, other than the nuclear family, but are based on skills, based on what we need," Ryan said.

Friday morning, President Trump tweeted that he never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is a poor and troubled nation.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, who were in that meeting at the White House, say the reports are accurate with Graham saying he "said his piece" to the president.

Ryan defends tax cuts

Ryan spent much of the event touting the early returns of the tax cuts passed by Republicans and signed by President Trump last month.

"It says it makes sense to stay an American company, it makes sense to make things in America, it makes sense now to take the money you make overseas and bring it back into America and invest in this country," Ryan said.

Critics have said the Republicans' long-term plan is to cut taxes for the rich then fill the deficit it creates by cutting social services. Ryan said his push for entitlement reform dates back to long before the tax bill was written.

"It’s not a Republican or Democrat thing, it’s really just a baby boomer thing; they’re retiring, we’re not ready for the retirement," Ryan said.

Early polling has shown the new tax policy is unpopular thus far. Ryan said that will change as more of the policy takes effect.

"Now that you see what it actually does, we believe the story just gets better," he said.

Ryan's future

Ryan also addressed reports that he plans to retire at the end of this term, saying he's yet to make a decision. Ryan initially responded to the question by saying he's "not going anywhere any time soon." Ryan was then told that doesn't really answer the question.

"We make our decision in the spring of the election year every single term. You think I’m not gonna talk to my wife and give you the answer?," Ryan said with a chuckle.