US President Donald Trump sought on Friday to quell a global firestorm over his reported denunciation of immigration from “shithole countries” – a slur slammed at home and abroad as racist.
Trump tweeted a convoluted denial early Friday about the comments allegedly made on Thursday at a White House meeting with lawmakers on immigration reform.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump said, apparently referring to the remarks quoted by The Washington Post and The New York Times.
But Democratic Senator Dick Durbin – who was present at the meeting – publicly pushed back, saying Trump had repeatedly used “vile and racist” language.
Thursday’s White House huddle was held to discuss a bipartisan deal that would limit immigrants from bringing family members into the country, restrict the green card visa lottery and boost border security, in exchange for shielding hundreds of thousands of young people known as “Dreamers” from deportation.
Trump scrapped an Obama-era program that gave the 800 000 young immigrants legal protection, setting a March deadline for Congress to offer a fix – though it has been reinstated by a court, for now.
After lawmakers raised the issue of protections for immigrants from African nations, Haiti and El Salvador, the president reportedly demanded to know why the United States should accept immigrants from “shithole countries,” rather than – for instance – wealthy and overwhelmingly white Norway.
Durbin said Trump specifically asked, “Do we need more Haitians?” before launching into a diatribe about African immigration.
Trump then “said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist,” Durbin said, adding that “shithole” was “the exact word used by the president, not just once but repeatedly.”
Trump denied he ever said “anything derogatory” about the people of Haiti.
“Made up by Dems,” he tweeted. “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians!”
But the government of Haiti – which on Friday marked the eighth anniversary of a devastating earthquake that killed at least 200,000 people – declared itself “outraged and shocked” by the “racist” slur.
Trump’s reported comments also drew a unanimous condemnation from African countries at the UN, which said they were “extremely appalled” at the “racist and xenophobic remarks” and called for a retraction and apology.
El Salvador slammed them as “deplorable.”
The State Department was left scrambling to contain the damage, with a top official saying that – while Trump denies using the language attributed to him – envoys had been briefed to convey Washington’s respect if summoned to explain themselves, as they were in Botswana.
US missions went into damage control mode. The embassy in South Africa said the United States “deeply respects” the people of Africa, and “there has been no change in our dedication to partners & friends across the continent.”