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Trump: Why Accept Immigrants From 'Shithole Countries'?

Update: President Trump on Friday insisted that “this was not the language used” during Thursday’s Oval Office meeting on immigration. To see an earlier AP article on the meeting, click here. The article below has been condensed.

WASHINGTON—In bluntly vulgar language, President Donald Trump questioned Thursday why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa rather than places like Norway, as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to people briefed on the extraordinary Oval Office conversation.

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.”

Trump’s comments 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 months-long, 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 would be allowed to stay in the U.S. who fled here after disasters hit their homes in places including El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti.

[The other senator mentioned above was Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.]

Trump specifically questioned why the U.S. would want to admit more people from Haiti. As for Africa, he asked why more people from “shithole 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.

Late Thursday, Trump was pushing for “a Great Wall” and criticizing Democrats’ stance on immigration, highlighting the difficulties for any negotiations.

“The Democrats seem intent on having people and drugs pour into our country from the Southern Border, risking thousands of lives in the process. It is my duty to protect the lives and safety of all Americans,” he said in a late-night tweet. “We must build a Great Wall …”

Asked about the earlier remarks insulting other countries, 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 by his foes of racist attitudes and has routinely smashed through public decorum that his modern predecessors have generally embraced.

Trump has claimed without evidence that Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, wasn’t born in the United States, has said Mexican immigrants were “bringing crime” and were “rapists” and said there were “very fine people on both sides” after violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one counter-protester dead.

“Racist,” tweeted Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., after Thursday’s story broke. 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 Trump must 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.” On Friday he plans to sign a proclamation honoring Martin Luther King Day.

Critics also have questioned his mental fitness to serve as president, citing his inability to muster some policy details and his tweets asserting his “nuclear button” is bigger than North Korea’s. He responded to such criticism with a recent tweet calling himself “a very stable genius” who is “like, really smart.”

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly describe the conversation. One said lawmakers in the room were taken aback by Trump’s remarks.

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.”

ALAN FRAM and JONATHAN LEMIRE / The Associated Press

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