(WASHINGTON) — In the wake of a firestorm sparked by President Donald Trump’s comments on Thursday slamming immigrants from ‘s—hole’ countries, the president weighed in on Twitter denying he used “derogatory” language about Haitians at an Oval Office meeting on immigration.
“Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor troubled country,” Trump said on Twitter. “Never said “take them out”.”
Trump, however, did not deny accounts from multiple sources either briefed on or familiar with the discussion, who told ABC News the president’s comments extended to African countries as well.
The president went on to accuse Democrats in the meeting of making up comments attributed to him and said that he “probably should record future meetings.”
In an earlier tweet on Friday, Trump acknowledged he used “tough” language, although it was unclear to what language he was referring to.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump tweeted Friday of Thursday’s meeting about a proposed bipartisan immigration plan.
Further, the president has not denied that he suggested in the meeting on Thursday that America should admit more immigrants from places like Norway, comments that were confirmed by multiple sources with direct knowledge of the conversations.
Roughly 15 hours since the comments were first reported, White House aides appeared unperturbed by the controversial remarks, arguing they could help the president despite the backlash across both sides of the aisle.
A White House official told ABC News the president’s comments echo his “America first” policy.
“I don’t think anyone is worried about it,” the official said. “I haven’t seen or heard anyone worried about it. In this instance, our statement reflects our thinking here. America First.”
Assistant to the president Mercedes Schlapp said Friday there have been “selective leaks” and “inaccurate reporting” but would not clarify further what exactly the president was denying in his morning tweets.
“The language was not used and it is very clear that this is the Democrats trying to derail this process,” Schlapp said, referring to the talks on DACA and the president’s border wall.
Schlapp did not explicitly say whether the president wants to deny immigrants based on the status of their country of origin.
“It’s very clear that we want immigrants to come to this country regardless of their background — in terms of making sure that we focus in on what their skills are and what they can contribute to the economy,” Schlapp said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in an interview with reporters in Chicago outside of a Martin Luther King Jr. prayer breakfast on Friday described what he said he witnessed during a bipartisan meeting at the White House on immigration on Thursday.
Durbin said the president questioned, “do we need more Haitians?” during conversation about temporary protected status for people from Haiti and El Salvador among other nations.
“Then he went on and started to describe the immigration from Africa that was being protected in this bipartisan measure. That’s when he used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from s—holes,” Durbin told reporters. “The exact word used by the president. Not just once but repeatedly. That was the nature of this conversation.”
Asked about the controversy while at an event in Wisconsin on Friday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the first thing that came to his mind when he heard reports of the president’s remarks was that they were “very unfortunate, unhelpful.” Ryan added that he thought of his own family’s migration from Ireland.
Trump’s latest tweets came hours before the president was slated to sign a proclamation to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and on a day in which Haiti recognizes a moment of silence for those who died eight years ago in a devastating earthquake.
His comments also come on the heels of a week filled with tense back and forth over immigration reform policy.
According to multiple sources either briefed on or familiar with the discussion, the president during the bipartisan meeting at the White House on Thursday, grew frustrated that the proposal would scale back the visa lottery program, but not eliminate it, asking those in the room why they would want people from Haiti, Africa and other “s—hole countries” coming into the United States.
Trump’s Friday morning tweets also criticized the “so-called” bipartisan DACA deal that was presented to him and a group of Republican congressional leaders as a “big step backwards.”
“Wall was not properly funded, Chain & lottery were made worse and USA would be forced to take large numbers of people from high crime,” he tweeted.
Trump insisted he wants a merit-based immigration system to ensure the United States gets people who will “help take our country to the next level.”
“I want safety and security for our people. I want to stop the massive inflow of drugs. I want to fund our military,” Trump said.
Earlier this week, a federal district judge in California issued a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration’s efforts to end DACA, an Obama administration-era program that helps protect the roughly 800,000 so-called dreamers from deportation. It is a ruling supporters have deemed a step in the right direction.
In the latest ABC News/Washington Post survey, in November, 50 percent of Americans saw Trump as “biased against black people,” while 42 percent did not. Among blacks themselves, 73 percent saw him as biased, as did 70 percent of Hispanics, vs. 40 percent of whites.
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