President Donald Trump on Thursday referred to African nations as "s---hole countries" during a meeting on immigration with a bipartisan group of senators, according to a Democratic aide and another person familiar with the conversation.
Trump made the comment during a discussion of U.S. visa and immigration policies inside the Oval Office. Trump was meeting with the senators to discuss a bipartisan plan to grant legal protections to the roughly 800,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally after being brought to the country as children. During the conversation Trump also questioned why the U.S would want to accept people from countries like Haiti and said the U.S. should want more people from countries like Norway, the aides said.
The comments were first reported by the Washington Post.
The senators had hoped to convince Trump to support their plan which pairs increased funding for border security with new legal status for immigrants who were previously protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. The White House rejected the plan and asked the senators to keep working on a new proposal.
The White House issued a statement rejecting "weak and dangerous stopgap measures" on immigration but did not deny Trump's remarks.
"The President will only accept an immigration deal that adequately addresses the visa lottery system and chain migration — two programs that hurt our economy and allow terrorists into our country," said deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah. "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."
The meeting delivered a significant setback to the bipartisan working group which first announced the deal earlier on Thursday afternoon.
"We are at a deal," Flake told reporters on Capitol Hill. "So we'll be talking to the White House about that and I hope we can move forward with that." Flake added that "it's the only game in town. There is no other bill."
Later that afternoon, after members of the six-person Senate group presented their agreement to Trump, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters there was more negotiating to be done.
"I was at the White House talking about what I thought was a bipartisan proposal," Graham said following the meeting. "No deal yet."
White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short told reporters on Capitol Hill that the group — which included Flake, Graham, Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; and Robert Menendez, D-N.J. — presented what amounted to a small group agreement but the White House did not sign off.
"We've got a long ways to go," Short said.
The negotiations began in earnest at the end of December, months after Trump first announced in September 2017 that DACA would be ending, and gave Congress until March 5 of this year to come up with a replacement.
Democrats and other supporters of the so-called DREAMers have called for a legislative implementation of DACA to be attached to a must-pass spending bill that would keep the government funded beyond January 19.
As part of any agreement about DACA, President Trump has insisted that there be funding for a wall on the southern border with Mexico, which many Democrats have opposed. He also called for ending the diversity visa lottery, a State Department program that gives residents of nations with few migrants coming to the U.S. a chance for a green card, and for ending family-based migration (called "chain migration" by its opponents) that allows extended family members of immigrants already in the U.S. legally to come to the U.S. as well.
The agreement among senators came as more than 100 corporate CEOs urged Congress to "act immediately and pass a permanent bipartisan legislative solution to enable Dreamers who are currently living, working, and contributing to our communities to continue doing so."
The letter continues, "The imminent termination of the DACA program is creating an impending crisis for workforces across the country."