President Trump disputes reports of remarks on Haiti

President Trump speaks during a meeting at the White House on Thursday. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)
President Trump speaks during a meeting at the White House on Thursday. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Amid a torrent of outraged criticism from around the country and the world, President Trump disputed multiple reports that he referred to Haiti as a “shithole” country during an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers on Thursday about U.S. immigration policy.

“Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country,” Trump tweeted early Friday morning. “Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings — unfortunately, no trust!”

Earlier, the president did not deny using “tough” language at the meeting, which was focused on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era immigration program that was rescinded by the Trump administration last year. But Trump suggested he did not make the “shithole” remark as reported.

“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” he tweeted. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made — a big setback for DACA!”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who was among the lawmakers at the meeting, refuted Trump’s denials.

“You’ve seen the comments in the press. I’ve not read one of them that’s inaccurate,” Durbin told reporters on Friday. “To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning denying that he used those words. It’s not true. He said these hateful things, and he said them repeatedly.”

GOP Sens. David Perdue and Tom Cotton, who were also in the room, issued a joint statement saying they “do not recall the president saying these comments specifically.” But Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said that fellow South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham — who was in the room too — told him the reported comments are “basically accurate.”

Graham subsequently issued a statement saying he confronted Trump over the remarks.

“Following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him yesterday,” Graham said. “The President and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel.”

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that Trump “grew frustrated” with lawmakers while discussing a possible bipartisan deal protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries earlier in the day.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to the newspaper, which cited “several people briefed on the meeting.”

“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump continued. “Take them out.”

According to the Post, Trump suggested that the U.S. “should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he met with” the day before.

On Thursday night, the White House did not deny Trump made the disparaging comments.

“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement to the Post. “Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”

According to CNN’s Jake Tapper, though, Trump did not refer to Haiti as a “shithole” country, but did refer to African countries that way.

“There was a conflation of two different remarks by the president,” Tapper explained in a series of tweets, citing a “source familiar with the meeting.”

“First, when talking about ‘temporary protected status’ countries as part of the immigration deal it was mentioned that Salvadorans, Hondurans and Haitians have that status. ‘Haitians?’ the president said. ‘Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out’ — meaning take them out of the deal. Then in a separate part of the conversation when they were referencing the diversity visa lottery, President Trump referred to people coming from Africa as coming from ‘shithole countries.’”

The Post report about Trump’s comments during Thursday’s meeting drew widespread condemnation from all sides. At an event in Milwaukee on Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump’s comments “unfortunate” and “unhelpful.” Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, whose family came from Haiti, said Trump’s comments are “unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values. This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation.”

“President Trump’s comments are yet another confirmation of his racially insensitive and ignorant views,” Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement. “It also reinforces the concerns that we hear every day, that the President’s slogan Make America Great Again is really code for Make America White Again.”

At the top of his CNN show Thursday night, host Don Lemon called Trump a “racist.”

In a statement, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said that “the president’s expressed desire to see more immigrants from countries like Norway must be called out for what it is: an effort to set this country back generations by promoting a homogeneous, white society.”

A man empties the refrigerator of his collapsed home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 14, 2010. (Photo: Julie Jacobson/AP)
A man empties the refrigerator of his collapsed home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 14, 2010. (Photo: Julie Jacobson/AP)

Slideshow: After Trump’s comments, a look back at Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake

Trump’s reported inflammatory comments came almost eight years to the day after a devastating earthquake in Haiti killed more than 300,000 people and displaced around 1.5 million others. Late last year, the Trump administration announced that it would end an Obama-era program that gave temporary residency to 60,000 displaced Haitians that allowed them to live and work in the United States.

“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,” Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential election, tweeted. “Instead, we‘re subjected to Trump’s ignorant, racist views of anyone who doesn’t look like him.”

The Haitian government said on Friday that Trump’s “shithole” comment reflects a “racist view of the Haitian community.” Paul Altidor, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., told NPR that the president was either “misinformed” or “miseducated.”

African Union spokesman Ebba Kalondo told the Associated Press that he was “frankly alarmed” by the president’s remarks.

“Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice,” Kalondo said. “This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity.”

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, also condemned the remarks.

“If confirmed, these are shocking and shameful comments from the president of the United States,” Colville said. “There is no other word you can use but ’racist.’”

Durbin told reporters: “The most disheartening thing to me is that it’s my belief that is the first time words that hateful have been spoken in the Oval Office.”

But Trump reportedly used similar language about Haitian and Nigerian immigrants during a June 2017 meeting with his national security team.

The New York Times reported that the president said 15,000 Haitians who arrived in the U.S. last year “all have AIDS,” and complained that Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” after seeing America.

After issuing a proclamation in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the White House on Friday, Trump ignored a number of shouted questions from reporters as he was leaving the room. Among them: “Mr. President, are you a racist?”

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