WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump took a sarcastic dig at Rep. Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican who has been critical of the president, during a meeting on immigration with House Republicans Tuesday night. Sanford fired back later, telling The Associated Press that he found it "startling" that Trump would attack him during a meeting about "a crisis."
Trump told the lawmakers in a closed-door Capitol Hill meeting that he wanted to "congratulate Mark on a great race," according to two attendees. Several participants said Trump's remarks elicited some boos, with one saying they came from members of the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative group to which Sanford belongs.
"The president has his own style. You gotta give him credit. He's an equal opportunity insulter. He gets just about everybody," said Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas.
Sanford lost his primary bid last week to state Rep. Katie Arrington and blamed his defeat on Trump, who urged Republicans to dump the former South Carolina governor. Tuesday's meeting was focused on GOP efforts to address the administration's separation of migrant children from their families and other immigration law changes.
Sanford said he "finds solace" in the boos Trump received, saying the events were described to him by friends in the room. Sanford said he was unable to attend because his flight was delayed at the Charleston, South Carolina, airport.
"These comments, like many things the president has said of late, I find perplexing," he said. "It's not often in politics that someone will shoot a candidate and once dead come by and shoot him again." He also said it was "startling that the president goes to Capitol Hill to talk to lawmakers about a crisis" and uses the session to raise "some perceived personal slight."
Trump tweeted on the day of the primary that the congressman had been unhelpful to him, adding, "He is better off in Argentina." That was a reference to Sanford's surprise disappearance from the state when he was governor, which he later revealed was to continue his affair with an Argentine woman.
Sanford had called Trump untrustworthy and culturally intolerant, prompting Arrington's primary challenge. The congressman later said support for Trump had become a litmus test in GOP primaries.
The attendees spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private session.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.