President Donald Trump on Friday appeared to deny he used the phrase “shithole countries” to describe foreign nations during a bipartisan meeting on immigration with lawmakers, tweeting that “this was not the language used.”
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made — a big setback for DACA!” the president tweeted Friday, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
In addition, Trump denied he made derogatory comments about Haitians, including “Why do we want people from Haiti here?” and saying that all Haitians have AIDS.
“Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country,” Trump tweeted. “Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings — unfortunately, no trust!”
Media reports state that during his bipartisan meeting with lawmakers Thursday, Trump questioned why the U.S. admits people from “shithole countries” or “shitholes.” The White House initially declined to deny the reporting, with spokesperson Raj Shah issuing a statement Thursday night saying that while some “Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries,” the president “will always fight for the American people.”
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the lawmakers in attendance, corroborated the remarks, saying Trump used the “hate-filled” and “racist” language several times.
“In the course of his comments [Trump] said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist,” Durbin told reporters on Capitol Hill on Friday. “You’ve seen the comments in the press. I have not read one of them that’s inaccurate.”
Durbin also disputed the president’s denial of the exchanges, offering a retelling of how the comments came about.
“To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning denying that he used those words,” Durbin said. “It is not true. He said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who has publicly sparred with the president, added on Twitter that the derogatory remarks were “related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance.” Flake, along with numerous Democratic lawmakers, denounced Trump’s “shitholes” comments, calling them “abhorrent and repulsive.”
According to Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) another meeting attendee, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), told him the reported comments were “basically accurate.” But in his own statement on Friday, Graham neither confirmed nor denied their accuracy. Instead, Graham said, “I said my piece directly” to Trump. The South Carolina lawmaker added that he appreciated Durbin’s statement.
Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), two of the other lawmakers in attendance at the immigration summit, said in a joint statement on Friday that they “do not recall the President saying these comments specifically.” The senators, responding in part to Durbin’s “accusation,” appeared to take issue with the disclosure of details regarding the meeting, saying “it seems that not everyone is committed to negotiating in good faith.”
Trump faced swift backlash from across the globe on Thursday and Friday, with Haitian authorities, Haitian-American lawmakers, Democratic senators and representatives speaking out against his remarks. Republican lawmakers, including party leadership, were largely silent on the matter in the aftermath of the report.
Numerous Trump-supporting commentators and conservative pundits defended the president over the “shithole countries” controversy, however, with some casting the remarks as a political response to bad policy, not individuals, while others outright condoned them.
Joel Pollack, editor for the right-wing Breitbart News site, tweeted Thursday: “Don’t ask [U.S. military personnel serving in Africa] to describe some of those countries. You may be disappointed.”
A banner on the influential Drudge Report site on Thursday read: “Trump Balks at ‘Shithole’ Immigration Deal.”
The president faced criticism over a separate set of racially charged remarks last month, after The New York Times reported Trump had said immigrants from Nigeria wouldn’t “go back to their huts” after living in the U.S. The White House denied the report. Trump’s comments on immigrants repeatedly raised charges of racism on the campaign trail in 2016.
In a series of tweets leading up to his statement Friday that “this was not the language used,” Trump also criticized the “so-called” bipartisan Dreamers deal that lawmakers reached this week, calling it “a big step backwards.”
“The so-called bipartisan DACA deal presented yesterday to myself and a group of Republican Senators and Congressmen was a big step backwards. Wall was not properly funded, Chain & Lottery were made worse and USA would be forced to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly,” the president wrote. “I want a merit based system of immigration and people who will help take our country to the next level. I want safety and security for our people. I want to stop the massive inflow of drugs. I want to fund our military, not do a Dem defund.”
A group of six Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Thursday reached a deal to shield Dreamers — immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children — from deportation. The deal also would include $2.7 billion for border security and over $1 billion for technology and infrastructure security.
Among other things, the deal would include a 12-year path for citizenship for Dreamers but would end the visa lottery system that Trump has routinely criticized.
On Friday morning, Trump cast blame on Democrats for what he claims are the deal’s faults.
“Because of the Democrats not being interested in life and safety, DACA has now taken a big step backwards. The Dems will threaten ‘shutdown,’ but what they are really doing is shutting down our military, at a time we need it most. Get smart, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
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