Breaking News Emails
President Donald Trump on Friday denied that he had insulted Haitians amid an uproar about his reported description of African nations as "shithole countries" during a meeting on immigration with lawmakers.
"The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used," Trump tweeted. "What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made — a big setback for DACA!"
On Thursday, Trump used vulgar language during a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators at the White House, a Democratic aide briefed on the meeting told NBC News Thursday.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who was present at the meeting and spoke to reporters Friday, confirmed the president's remarks and said that the media reports were accurate. In recounting the meeting, Durbin suggested that Trump's "shitholes" slur was aimed at African nations.
Two sources and Durbin said that when the discussion turned to Haiti, Trump questioned why Haitians should be given specific consideration.
"Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out," he said, according to sources.
The White House issued a statement Thursday that did not deny the remarks. But Trump tweeted Friday that he 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!" he added.
Trump did not specifically address whether he had said "shithole."
Two sources close to the administration told NBC News that Trump worked the phones Thursday night, calling friends and allies outside the White House to gauge reaction to fallout from the “shithole" comments.
One source characterized Trump as seeking reassurance, and described his mood regarding the fallout and coverage of his comments as “belligerent." Another source told NBC News the president sought insight about how the episode might resonate among his base of supporters.
Photos: This is what Haiti looks like
Meanwhile, Durbin, in describing the president's comments from the prior day, recalled Friday morning that Trump asked why America needed more Haitian immigrants.
"When the question was raised about Haitians for example — we have a group that have temporary protected status in the United States because they were the victims of crises and disasters and political upheaval. The largest group is El Salvador and the second is Honduran and the third is Haitian, and when I mentioned that fact to him, he said, 'Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?'" Durbin recounted.
"And then he went on when we started to describe the immigration from Africa that was being protected in this bipartisan measure. That's when he used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from 'shitholes.' The exact word used by the president, not just once, but repeatedly," the Illinois Democrat said.
"In the course of his comments, (the president) said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist. I use those words advisedly," Durbin said. "I understand how powerful they are, but I cannot believe that in the history of the White House and that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday. You've seen the comments in the press; I’ve not read one of them that's inaccurate."
Dubin concluded: "I cannot imagine a moment where a president sunk to that depth. That's what breaks my heart."
Condemnation of Trump's earlier comments poured in from around the U.S and the world.
The U.N. human rights office said the comments, if confirmed, were "shocking and shameful" and "racist," while Haiti's foreign minister summoned the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Robin Diallo for clarification.
Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, released a statement Thursday saying Trump's comments were "unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values." Love also demanded an apology from the president.
The comments attributed to him Thursday came as senators huddled in the Oval Office with the president to discuss a path forward on an immigration deal.
On Friday morning, however, Trump ripped those discussions on Twitter.
In a series of posts, Trump also slammed the immigration deal reached by a bipartisan group of senators as 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," Trump 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. ... Because of the Democrats not being interested in life and safety, DACA has now taken a big step backwards," he continued.
"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!" Trump posted.
On Thursday, a bipartisan working group of senators announced they had reached an agreement on several immigration issues, including DACA and border security.
The outline, according to multiple Republican and Democratic sources, would provide a path to citizenship that would take 10 years for DACA recipients and those who were eligible for the program but didn't apply.
The measure would also authorize $2.8 billion for border security, including Trump's $1.6 billion request for a border wall. The deal would change the diversity visa lottery system, with approximately 50,000 slots annually to be used for people in the country who have lost their temporary protected status and some will be used for low-immigration countries.