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Trump holds first White House meeting with sub-Saharan African leader since 's---hole' controversy

During their Monday meeting, President Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had a rock-solid strategy for dealing with the controversy: ignoring it completely.
Image: President Donald Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari during a joint press conference
President Donald Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 30, 2018, in Washington.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Nigeria's president visited the White House Monday, meeting with President Trump in the same room where the U.S. president had reportedly said that Nigerians admitted to the U.S. as refugees could never be convinced to "go back to their huts."

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is the first sub-Saharan African leader to visit the White House. His Monday meeting with Trump comes a few months after reports of that Oval Office incident first emerged, along with other comments Trump also reportedly made in which he referred to some nations on that continent as "shithole" countries, and questioned why the U.S. should admit more Haitian immigrants.

But it wasn't awkward, according to Buhari. It wasn't awkward, because they wouldn't let it be awkward — and also, because neither man mentioned the incident at all, not even to deny it had taken place.

"I’m very careful about what the press says about others and myself," Buhari said in response to a question from reporters during a joint news conference Monday in the Rose Garden. "I’m not sure about the validity of whether that allegation against the president was true or not, so the best thing for me to do is keep quiet."

Trump, who had previously denied making the remark, didn't comment on the allegation's validity Monday. Instead, he said that Buhari "knows me" — and noted that "you do have some countries that are in very bad shape, and very tough places to live in."

Nigeria is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the richest African nation by overall GDP — and, Trump said Monday with Buhari by his side, an "amazing" country. "I hear, from the standpoint of the beauty of the country, there's no place more beautiful," Trump said.

Although the White House did not initially deny the remark, Trump later tweeted that he did not say anything derogatory about Haitians and had never said, as had been reported, to “take them out.”

"The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used," Trump said in a tweet following the reports, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. "What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made — a big setback for DACA!"

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who was present at the meeting, has said publicly that Trump used the "vile" phrase in his characterization of those countries "repeatedly." Republican lawmakers present at the meeting have said they do not remember those words being used.