Trump Denies Using Vulgar Slur; Top Democrat Says He Said It
Updated 1:12 p.m. ET
President Trump is denying reports, from NPR and other news outlets, that in a Thursday meeting at the White House, he disparaged African nations as "shithole countries" and questioned why the United States would admit immigrants from them and other nations, like Haiti.
Trump told lawmakers that the U.S. should instead seek out more immigrants from countries like Norway.
A White House statement issued Thursday notably did not deny that Trump used the vulgarity to refer to African countries, but on Friday morning, Trump shifted gears.
"This was not the language used," Trump said in a tweet.
Trump then denied he said "anything derogatory" about Haitians or Haiti except that it's a "very poor and troubled country."
But, in addition to the reports from multiple news outlets about the language used by the president, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin confirmed the president's remarks.
"The president erupted several times with questions and, in the course of his comments, said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist," the senator told reporters. "I use those words advisably. I understand how powerful they are. But I cannot believe that in the history of the White House and in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.
"You've seen the comments in the press. I've not read one of them that's inaccurate."
In the meeting, Trump criticized the tentative bipartisan agreement drafted by Durbin, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake and four other senators.
Trump blasted the proposal as "a big step backwards" and said it didn't provide enough funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a key campaign promise Trump made in 2016.
Earlier in the week, Trump had assured lawmakers that he would accept any agreement crafted by Congress.
"I will be signing," he said in a Cabinet Room meeting Tuesday. "I'm not going to say, 'Oh, gee, I want this or that.' I'll be signing it."
In the wake of Trump's comments, attention has shifted away from the contents of a proposed DACA deal to a statement many view as racist.
"President Trump's comments are racist and a disgrace," said Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House. "They do not reflect our nation's values."
Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said the latest statement is "yet another confirmation of [Trump's] racially insensitive and ignorant views."
He added, "[The] president's slogan 'Make America Great Again' is really code for 'Make America White Again.' "
Some Republicans also criticized Trump.
The top Republican in the House, Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, called the president's "very unfortunate, unhelpful." Ryan also recalled at length his family's own Irish heritage. And Ryan made reference to immigrants in Janesville, Wis., where he lives: "We've got great friends from Africa in Janesville who are doctors who are just incredible citizens and I just think it's important we celebrate that."
Utah Republican Rep. Mia Love, whose family descended from Haiti, called the president's comments "unkind, divisive [and] elitist."
They "fly in the face of our nation's values," Love added. "This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation."
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told Patty Wight of Maine Public Radio that the president should not denigrate citizens of other countries and that "it does not help us come up with a bipartisan approach to immigration."
Other GOP lawmakers struck the now-familiar balance of distancing themselves from the president's statements, but not criticizing Trump himself. Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar told NPR's Morning Edition that he "can't condone vocabulary that another person actually utilizes in that aspect." But, he added, "I also understand the president is not a career politician, and may say things that aren't politically incorrect."
"Any word can be utilized in an offensive aspect," Gosar said.
Editor's note: NPR has decided in this case to spell out the vulgar word that the president reportedly used because it meets our standard for use of offensive language. It is "absolutely integral to the meaning and spirit of the story being told."
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