Donald Trump

Senator confirms Trump made ‘s***hole countries’ remark despite president’s ‘denial’

In a vague tweet, American president said his words were tough but ‘this was not the language used’ – but a Democrat senator who was present says that is a lie

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 8:21am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 January, 2018, 1:53am

US President Donald Trump did call Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “s***hole countries” during an Oval Office meeting on Thursday, a senator present at the gathering has said – despite the president’s apparent denial on Twitter.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said on Friday that despite the president’s tweet to the contrary, Trump did indeed make the “hate-filled, vile and racist” remarks in front of himself and 10 others.

They came as Durbin presented Trump with a bipartisan proposal to retain an Obama-era immigration plan that the Republican Party wants to remove.

“I cannot believe in the history of the White House in that Oval Office that any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday,” Durbin said.

“As Senator [Lindsay] Graham began reading the plan, the president started making comments and asking questions,” Durbin said.

“And that is when things started deteriorating rapidly.”

Durbin said that Trump picked up on a remark about people from Haiti on a temporary protected immigration status, saying “Haiti? We don’t need any more Haitians.”

He said that the conversation then moved on to immigration from Africa, at which point Trump used “those sickening, heartbreaking remarks, saying ‘Those s***holes send us the people that they don’t want.’

“He repeated that,” Durbin continued. “He didn’t just say it one time.”

The senator added that Trump had rejected their plan and told them to “work on something else”. “I don’t think that it’s likely there will be another bipartisan plan coming forward,” Durbin said.

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Durbin’s remarks came after a tweet in which Trump apparently denied the claim that he referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “s***hole countries” and asked why America couldn’t get more immigrants from Norway.

The claim was initially made by three people who said they were briefed on the conversation, after which Trump apparently denied using foul language.

“USA would be forced to take large numbers of people from high crime … countries which are doing badly. I want a merit based system of immigration and 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.” he tweeted.

“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made.”

About an hour later, Trump followed it up with: “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said “take them out.” Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!”

Notably, the White House did not immediately deny that the president had made the remarks when pressed.

Asked about the account, White House spokesman Raj Shah said that “certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people”.

On Friday House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, characterised Trump’s remarks as “very unfortunate, unhelpful”.

The Washington Post first reported the claims, which were widely confirmed by wire agencies and other publications, including The New York Times.

About a half-dozen lawmakers were in the meeting, which also included Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller, legislative director Marc Short and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, according to one person briefed on the meeting.

The lawmakers discussed restoring protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries, the Post reported, which for nearly three decades have been granted to help people who are temporarily unable to return to their countries because of armed conflict, disasters or other conditions. The administration announced this week that it would end the protection for people from El Salvador in 2019.

The remarks were widely condemned.

The UN’s human rights office spokesman Rupert Colville said: “These are shocking and shameful comments from the President of the United States. There is no other word one can use but ‘racist’.”

The African Union said it was “frankly alarmed” by the comments.

“Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice,” AU spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo said.

Trump was reported in December to have made similarly disparaging comments last year about people who had received US visas in 2017. He said that people from Haiti “all have Aids” while people from Nigeria would never “go back to their huts,” The New York Times said.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Associated Press