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Trump acknowledges ‘tough’ language but appears to deny ‘shithole’ remark

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 1/12/2018 Anne Gearan, Ed O'Keefe
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President Trump acknowledged Friday that he used "tough" language during a meeting on efforts toward a bipartisan immigration deal but appeared to deny using the term "shithole" to refer to some countries.

"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!" Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

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Spokesmen for the White House did not respond to a request for clarification Friday. The White House did not deny Thursday that Trump used the vulgarity, first reported by The Washington Post and later confirmed by numerous other news outlets.

In a later tweet, Trump focused on remarks attributed to him about Haiti, saying: "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!"

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the lawmakers who attended the meeting, said in comments to reporters and in a subsequent written statement Friday that Trump's denial was false. The president, according to Durbin, "said things that were hate-filled, vile and racist." Trump used the words "repeatedly," the senator said.

President Donald Trump pauses as he speaks during an event to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, in Washington. © AP Photo/Evan Vucci President Donald Trump pauses as he speaks during an event to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, Jan. 12, 2018, in Washington.

"I cannot believe that in the history of the White House, in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday," Durbin said.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has been negotiating the immigration policy deal with Durbin and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), said in an interview with The Post that he was not at the meeting, but heard about Trump's comments "before it went public. And what I've heard reported is consistent about what I heard about the meeting."

Flake said that Thursday's comments reflect what Trump has reportedly said in the past about Haiti and Nigeria. "I'm not surprised at the sentiment expressed — it's consistent with what he's said — but that he would do that knowing the fury it would cause."

In a statement Friday afternoon, Graham did not specifically address what was said at the White House, but made clear he disagreed with the sentiments expressed by Trump.

"Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday," he said. "The President and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel. I've always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals."

On Friday, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told the Post & Courier newspaper that Graham told him that the reported comments are "basically accurate."

"If that comment is accurate, the comment is incredibly disappointing," Scott told the Charleston, S.C., newspaper.

The president's comments appeared as he grew frustrated with lawmakers in the Thursday meeting in the Oval Office, when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan deal over young undocumented immigrants known as "dreamers" who were brought to the United States illegally as children, according to several people briefed on the meeting.

"Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.

Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday.

A White House official said Trump also suggested that he would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries because he felt that they help the United States economically.

In addition, the president singled out Haiti, telling lawmakers that immigrants from that country must be left out of any deal, these people said.

"Why do we need more Haitians?" Trump said, according to people familiar with the meeting. "Take them out."

In November, the Trump administration rescinded deportation protection granted to nearly 60,000 Haitians after the 2010 earthquake and told them to return home by July 2019.

Among Republicans, there were differing responses to Trump's comments, but few outright condemned his remarks.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) called them "very unfortunate, unhelpful" during an event Friday in Milwaukee, pointing to his own Irish ancestors' migration to America.

"First thing that came to my mind was: Very unfortunate, unhelpful," he said. "But you know what I thought of right away? I thought about my own family. . . . It is a beautiful story of America, and that is a great story and that is the story we have today and that is a story we had yesterday and that is what makes this country so exceptional and unique in the first place. So I see this as a thing to celebrate, and I think it's a big part of our strength."

In a joint statement, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) — two of Trump's biggest allies on Capitol Hill who attended Thursday's meeting — said, "We do not recall the president saying these comments specifically but what he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest."

Trump, the senators said, "brought everyone to the table this week and listened to both sides. But regrettably, it seems that not everyone is committed to negotiating in good faith."

Cotton and Perdue are co-sponsors of legislation that would enact severe restrictions on legal immigration — a bill Trump has said he supports, but that senior GOP leaders have said could not pass Congress.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who also attended the meeting, did not address the comments in a statement issued by his office Friday.

"There are almost 800,000 young DACA beneficiaries who are facing imminent deportation in March if we don't reach a deal," he said. "I'm not going to be diverted from all possible efforts to continue to negotiate to reach a deal. So statements at the eleventh hour are not going to distract me."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Trump's comments contrast with "the very idea of America."

"People have come to this country from everywhere, and people from everywhere have made America great," he said in a statement. "Our immigration policy should reflect that truth, and our elected officials, including our President, should respect it."

An immigration hard-liner in Congress, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), tweeted support for Trump's remarks Friday: "If those countries aren't as you described, Democrats should be happy to deport criminal aliens back to them. &End #AnchorBabies, too."

Durbin said in his statement that he and others in his bipartisan group will continue pressing for a DACA deal. It "continues to build support for the only deal in town," he said.

Graham voiced a similar sentiment in his statement.

"I believe it is vitally important to come to a bipartisan solution to the immigration and border challenges we face today," he said. "I am committed to working with Republicans and Democrats to find common ground so we can move forward."

Former vice president Joe Biden condemned Trump's remarks on Twitter.

"It's not how a president should speak. It's not how a president should behave. Most of all, it's not what a president should believe. We're better than this," Biden wrote.

Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic rival in the 2016 presidential campaign, also weighed in.

"The anniversary of the devastating earthquake 8 years ago is a day to remember the tragedy, honor the resilient people of Haiti, & affirm America's commitment to helping our neighbors," she wrote in a tweet. "Instead, we're subjected to Trump's ignorant, racist views of anyone who doesn't look like him."

The Associated Press reported Friday that the Haitian government condemned Trump's reported migration comment as a "racist view of the Haitian community."

Haiti was among the nations to abstain at the United Nations rather than condemn Trump's change in policy over Jerusalem. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley had asked nations not to vote against the United States and said she would keep track of those who did. She later thanked the handful of nations that voted with the United States and the larger group that abstained.

In Geneva, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights also condemned the comments as racist.

"These are shocking and shameful comments from the president of the United States," spokesman Rupert Colville said in remarks the U.N. body posted to Twitter.


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