In bluntly vulgar language, President Donald Trump questioned Thursday why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and "s---hole countries" in Africa rather than places like Norway, as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to a Democratic aide and another person familiar with the conversation. Trump on Friday denied using that language.
Trump's contemptuous description of an entire continent startled lawmakers in the meeting and immediately revived charges that the president is racist. The White House did not deny his remark but issued a statement saying Trump supports immigration policies that welcome "those who can contribute to our society."
Yet Trump himself tweeted Friday: "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used." He went on to criticize the immigration deal, saying: "What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!"
Trump later went on to argue: "Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country."
Referring to a report in the Washington Post, that he said "take them out" in reference to Haitians, Trump said that never happened.
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the president's tweet.
Trump's comments Thursday came as two senators presented details of a bipartisan compromise that would extend protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants — and also strengthen border protections, as Trump has insisted.
The lawmakers had hoped Trump would back their accord, an agreement among six senators evenly split among Republicans and Democrats, ending a monthslong, bitter dispute over protecting the "dreamers." But the White House later rejected it, plunging the issue back into uncertainty just eight days before a deadline that threatens a government shutdown.
Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate' s No. 2 Democrat, explained that as part of that deal, a lottery for visas that has benefited people from Africa and other nations would be ended, the sources said, though there could be another way for them to apply. Durbin said people who would be allowed to stay in the U.S. included those who had fled here after disasters hit their homes in places such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti.
Trump specifically questioned why the U.S. would want to admit more people from Haiti. As for Africa, he asked why more people from "s---hole countries" should be allowed into the U.S., the sources said.
The president suggested that instead, the U.S. should allow more entrants from countries like Norway. Trump met this week with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Asked about the remarks, White House spokesman Raj Shah did not deny them.
"Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people," he said.
Trump's remarks were remarkable even by the standards of a president who has been accused of racism by his foes and who has routinely smashed through public decorum that his modern predecessors have generally embraced.
Trump has inaccurately claimed that Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, wasn't born in the United States. He has said Mexican immigrants were "bringing crime" and were "rapists." He said there were "very fine people on both sides" after violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one counter-protester dead.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said, "President Trump's comments are racist and a disgrace." But it wasn't just Democrats objecting.
Republican Rep. Mia Love of Utah, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, said Trump's comments were "unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values." She said, "This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation" and called on Trump to apologize to the American people "and the nations he so wantonly maligned."
Trump has called himself the "least racist person that you've ever met."
The Trump administration announced late last year that it would end a temporary residency permit program that allowed nearly 60,000 citizens from Haiti to live and work in the United States following a devastating 2010 earthquake.
Trump has spoken positively about Haitians in public. During a 2016 campaign event in Miami, he said "the Haitian people deserve better" and told the audience of Haitian-Americans he wanted to "be your greatest champion, and I will be your champion."
Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last year but has given Congress until March 5 to find a way to keep it alive.
Federal agencies will run out of money and have to shut down if lawmakers don't pass legislation extending their financing by Jan. 19. Some Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes — which Republicans will need to push that legislation through Congress — unless an immigration accord is reached.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Andrew Taylor, Kevin Freking and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.