Facing strong condemnation at home and abroad, U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday denied using the word “shithole” to describe Haiti and African countries, but kept up criticism of a Senate immigration plan that he said would force the United States to admit people from countries that “are doing badly.”
Trump reportedly made the remarks at a White House meeting on immigration on Thursday. U.S. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who attended the gathering, told reporters on Friday that Trump used “vile, vulgar” language, including repeatedly using the word “shithole” when speaking about African countries.
The Republican president’s comments were decried as racist by African and Haitian politicians, by the United Nations human rights office and by U.S. lawmakers from both major parties.
Trump, who has been accused of racism over several issues since he took office a year ago, sought to sought to walk back the comments on Friday, saying on Twitter, “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.”
Trump also denied saying “anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country.”
According to two sources, at Thursday’s meeting Trump questioned why the United States would want to accept immigrants from Haiti and African nations, referring to some as “shithole countries.”
A group of Republican and Democratic senators has been working for months to craft legislation that would protect 700,000 children who were brought to the United States as illegal immigrants and later given protection from deportation under a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
In a series of tweets on Friday, Trump also suggested that momentum toward a deal on maintaining such protection had stalled. “The so-called bipartisan DACA deal presented yesterday to myself and a group of Republican Senators and Congressmen was a big step backwards,” he said.
The tentative deal also addresses border security, including a border wall, the diversity visa lottery and so-called chain migration, a program by which U.S. green-card holders can sponsor other family members for permanent residence in the country.
Among other objections, Trump said the plan did not provide proper funding for the proposed wall that he made a center-piece of his election campaign. He added the country “would be forced to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly.”
At an event on Friday, Trump was honoring the memory of Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights era activist who was slain in 1968. King’s memory is marked with a national holiday, which falls this year on Monday.
Haiti said it was shocked by Trump’s reported remarks on Thursday and summoned the top U.S. diplomat in the country for an explanation.
Botswana also said it had summoned the U.S. ambassador to that country, Earl Miller, to “express its displeasure” and had asked Miller whether Botswana “is regarded as a ‘shithole’ country.”
Trump’s comments are extremely offensive to South Africa, said Jessie Duarte, a senior official with the ruling African National Congress. “Ours is not a shithole country. Neither is Haiti or any other country in distress,” she said.
In Geneva, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said “These are shocking and shameful comments from the president of the United States. There is no other word one can use but ‘racist.'”
The reported language was the latest in a long string of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim comments by Trump that have been condemned as racist. He also blamed “both sides” after a white supremacist rally in August in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent and a woman protesting against the rally was killed.
At Thursday’s White House meeting, Durbin and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham briefed the president on the newly drafted, bipartisan immigration bill.
The lawmakers were describing how certain immigration programs operate, including one to give safe haven in the United States to people from countries suffering from natural disasters or civil strife.
In questioning “Why do we want all these people from Africa here?” Trump said, “We should have more people from Norway,” according to one source briefed on the conversation.
“On behalf of Norway: Thanks, but no thanks,” tweeted Torbjoern Saetre, a Norwegian politician, on Friday.