Photographs by The New York Times/DOUG MILLS
Sens. Tom Cotton (left) of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, shown in August at the White House, said Friday that they did not recall President Donald Trump using vulgar language in a meeting on immigration policy.
Saturday, January 13, 2018
WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump acknowledged Friday that he used "tough" language during a meeting about a bipartisan immigration proposal that he rejected, reportedly using a vulgar term 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 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program implemented during President Barack Obama's tenure. The program grants protections to about 800,000 illegal aliens who were brought to the United States as children.
Spokesmen for the White House did not immediately 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.
At the same time, the uproar over Trump's comments appeared to cast doubt on the potential to forge an immigration deal as part of an effort to avert a government shutdown at the end of next week.
In the Oval Office meeting with lawmakers Thursday, Trump asked why the U.S. accepts immigrants from "s***hole countries" such as Haiti, El Salvador and African nations rather than places like Norway, according to people briefed on the exchange.
"Why do we need more Haitians?" Trump said, according to people familiar with the meeting. "Take them out."
In a Friday tweet, Trump focused on the 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!"
Trump did not respond to shouted questions about his comments as he signed a proclamation Friday honoring the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday holiday, which is Monday.
His comments drew international scorn.
The Haitian government on Friday 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.
A spokesman for the African Union also weighed in.
"The African Union Commission is frankly alarmed at statements by the president of the United States when referring to migrants of African countries and others in such contemptuous terms," Ebba Kalondo said. "Considering the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the U.S. during the Atlantic slave trade, this flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice."
In Geneva, a spokesman for the U.N. Human Rights Council also condemned the comments as "racist."
"There is no other word one can use but 'racist,'" he said at a briefing. "You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as 's***holes,' whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome."
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., one of the lawmakers who attended the Oval Office meeting, said in comments to reporters and in a subsequent 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.
"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.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., criticized Trump's remarks 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."
The contentious comments came a week before the current government spending authorization expires Jan. 19.
"The rhetoric just makes it more difficult, and that's unfortunate," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, referring to the prospects of consensus. "I don't think it makes it impossible, but I suspect the Democrats are sitting there going, 'Why would we want to compromise with him on anything?'"
Although Republicans hold control of Congress, their thin margin in the Senate means Democratic votes will be needed for any stopgap funding measure as well as for a broader budget agreement.
Democratic leaders have insisted that Congress pass a law protecting deferred-action recipients along with the funding. After telling lawmakers earlier this week that he's willing to sign whatever compromise on immigration they presented, Trump rejected a plan worked out on Thursday by a bipartisan group of six senators, describing the proposal Friday on Twitter as "a big step backwards."
The proposal by the six senators, led by Durbin and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would provide money for border security, end a visa lottery system and limit family-based migration for deferred-action recipients. Trump has announced that the deferred-action program would end March 5 if Congress doesn't act.
Meanwhile, questions arose about whether the group of six was the right group of lawmakers positioned to conduct meaningful talks.
John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 GOP senator, and other Republicans have derided the bipartisan group of six. Initial bargaining also has occurred among a separate group of four leaders -- the second-ranking Republican and Democrat from the House and Senate, including Cornyn and Durbin.
At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee event, Ryan said, "We just have to get it done."
Durbin warned, "We have seven days and the clock is ticking."
'WE DO NOT RECALL ...'
Among Republicans, there were differing explanations of what transpired in Thursday's private Oval Office meeting.
In a joint statement, Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga. -- two of Trump's biggest allies on Capitol Hill -- 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.
Graham, who Durbin said had voiced objection to Trump's comments during the meeting, issued a statement that did not dispute the remarks.
"Following comments by the president, I said my piece directly to him yesterday. The president and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel," Graham said.
He added: "I've always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals."
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., another of the six lawmakers who have been negotiating an immigration policy deal, said in an interview 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."
The president made the comments as he grew frustrated with lawmakers presenting the bipartisan plan when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries, the people briefed on the meeting said.
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.
"Why are we having all these people from s***hole countries come here?" Trump said, according to the sources, 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, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Trump also suggested he would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries because he believes that they help the United States economically.
"Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people," spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement issued Thursday after The Washington Post reported Trump's remarks.
Information for this article was contributed by Anne Gearan, Ed O'Keefe, Mike DeBonis, Erica Werner, Paul Schemm, Eli Rosenberg, Maria Sacchetti, Rick Noack, Michael Birnbaum, Josh Partlow, Rael Ombuor and Kevin Sieff of The Washington Post; by Sara Burnett, Jonathan Lemire, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Jill Colvin and Alan Fram of The Associated Press; and by Laura Litvan, Erik Wasson, Sahil Kapur, Anna Edgerton, Steven T. Dennis, Nick Wadhams, Jennifer Epstein and Billy House of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 01/13/2018
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