WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday denied using certain “language” as fury spread over his comments about immigration during a private meeting with lawmakers. But neither he nor the White House denied the most controversial of his comments: using the word “shithole” to describe countries in Africa and saying he would prefer immigrants from countries like Norway instead.
During an Oval Office meeting on Thursday, Trump questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to people briefed on the extraordinary Oval Office conversation.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump insisted in a series of Friday morning tweets. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA.”
But Sen. Dick Durbin, the only Democrat in the room, disputed the president’s account.
“He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly,” Durbin said,
Durbin added, “When the question was asked about Haitians ... he said, ‘Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?’”
Trump took particular issue with the characterization of his comments on Haiti.
“Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said “take them out.” Made up by Dems,” Trump wrote. “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings - unfortunately, no trust!”
The Trump administration announced late last year that it would end a temporary residency permit program that allowed nearly 60,000 citizens from Haiti to live and work in the United States following a devastating 2010 earthquake. The Washington Post said that during the meeting he said immigrants from Haiti should be left out of any new agreement approved by Congress.
Trump’s contemptuous blanket description of African countries startled lawmakers in the meeting and immediately revived charges that the president is racist. The White House on Thursday did not deny his remark but issued a statement saying Trump supports immigration policies that welcome “those who can contribute to our society.”
Trump’s comments came as two senators presented details of a bipartisan compromise that would extend protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants — and also strengthen border protections, as Trump has insisted.
The lawmakers had hoped Trump would back their accord, an agreement among six senators evenly split among Republicans and Democrats, ending a monthslong, bitter dispute over protecting the “dreamers.” But the White House later rejected it, plunging the issue back into uncertainty just eight days before a deadline that threatens a government shutdown.
Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’ s No. 2 Democrat, explained that as part of that deal, a lottery for visas that has benefited people from Africa and other nations would be ended, the sources said, though there could be another way for them to apply. Durbin said people who would be allowed to stay in the U.S. included those who had fled here after disasters hit their homes in places such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti.
As for immigrants from Africa, the president suggested that instead, the U.S. should allow more entrants from countries like Norway. Trump met this week with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Asked about the remarks Thursday, White House spokesman Raj Shah did not deny them.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” he said.
Trump’s remarks were remarkable even by the standards of a president who has been accused of racism by his foes and who has routinely smashed through public decorum that his modern predecessors have generally embraced.
Trump has inaccurately claimed that Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, wasn’t born in the United States. He has said Mexican immigrants were “bringing crime” and were “rapists.” He said there were “very fine people on both sides” after violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one counter-protester dead.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said, “President Trump’s comments are racist and a disgrace.” But it wasn’t just Democrats objecting.
Republican Rep. Mia Love of Utah, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, said Trump’s comments were “unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation’s values.” She said, “This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation” and called on Trump to apologize to the American people “and the nations he so wantonly maligned.”
Trump has called himself the “least racist person that you’ve ever met.”
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Andrew Taylor, Kevin Freking and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
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