- Trump said he had used ‘tough language’ but denies using specific phrase
- Senator who attended meeting: Trump’s remarks ‘hateful, vile and racist’
Donald Trump denied on Friday that he used the phrase “shithole countries” to describe Central American and African nations during talks with US lawmakers the day before. But one of the senators present contradicted Trump and called the remarks he had heard “hate-filled, vile and racist”.
Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat who was in the meeting, contradicted him to local Chicago press on Friday morning. He said Trump “in the course of his comments said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist”.
Durbin said: “He said these hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly.”
A few hours later, at an event to honor Martin Luther King Jr, Trump ignored questions from reporters, including one who asked: “Mr President, are you a racist?”
On Thursday, Trump reportedly grew angry during a meeting about protections for immigrants from several countries, and asked: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
“Why do we need more Haitians?” he reportedly added. “Take them out.” He also reportedly suggested the US bring in more people from Norway.
Early on Friday, he denied using the derogatory language. “The language used by me at the Daca meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” he tweeted, using an acronym for a program to protect young undocumented immigrants. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made – a big setback for Daca!”
Trump later added: “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. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!”
But Durbin said: “I cannot believe that in the history of the White House and the Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday. I’ve seen the comments in the press and I’ve not read one of them that’s inaccurate.”
Leaders around the world spoke out in anger on Friday. Haiti summoned the American envoy to the country, El Salvador’s president lodged a diplomatic protest, and the UN’s spokesman on human rights told reporters “there is no other word one can use but racist.”
The Republican senator Jeff Flake also contradicted the president, tweeting: “The words used by the President, as related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance, were not ‘tough,’ they were abhorrent and repulsive.”
Two of the president’s closest allies in the Senate, Republicans Tom Cotton and David Perdue, said in a statement: “we do not recall the president saying these comments specifically.”
The Thursday remarks was first reported by the Washington Post, citing aides briefed on the meeting, and White House spokesman Raj Shah did not deny that the president had used profanity to describe the nations.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” Shah said Thursday. He added that the president wanted “merit-based immigration” of people who can “grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation”.
The president harped on those themes Friday morning, saying that the proposals he saw Thursday were inadequate and even “a big step backwards”. He claimed without specifics or evidence that the deal would force the US “to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly”.
“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,” he said.
That tweet and reported remarks echo Trump’s long history of inflammatory comments about race, including years of spreading a false conspiracy about Barack Obama’s birth, a campaign announcement calling Mexicans “rapists”, and a refusal to condemn white supremacists last summer.
At the midday event to honor King, Trump decried racism. “No matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal,” he said.
The president left the event without answering reporters’ questions, mostly about his views of people from Central America and Africa.