Trump de­nies and de­fends vul­gar com­ments

President lam­basted from left and right af­ter dis­parag­ing Haiti, African coun­tries


WASHINGTON — U.S. President Don­ald Trump of­fered a par­tial de­nial in public but pri­vately de­fended his ex­tra­or­di­nary re­marks dis­parag­ing Haitians and Africans a day ear­lier. Trump said he was only ex­press­ing what many peo­ple think but won’t say about im­mi­grants from eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to a per­son who spoke to the president as crit­i­cism of his com­ments ric­o­cheted around the globe.

Trump spent Thurs­day evening mak­ing a flurry of calls to friends and out­side ad­vis­ers to judge their re­ac­tion to the tem­pest, said the con­fi­dant, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he wasn’t au­tho­rized to dis­close a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion. Trump wasn’t apolo­getic about his in­flam­ma­tory re­marks and de­nied he was racist, in­stead, blam­ing the me­dia for dis­tort­ing his mean­ing, the con­fi­dant said.

How­ever, crit­ics of the president, in­clud­ing some in his own Repub­li­can Party, spent Fri­day blast­ing the vul­gar com­ments he made be­hind closed doors. In his meet­ing with a group of sen­a­tors, he had ques­tioned why the U.S. would ac­cept more im­mi­grants from Haiti and “shit­hole coun­tries” in Africa as he re­jected a bi­par­ti­san im­mi­gra­tion deal, ac­cord­ing to one par­tic­i­pant and peo­ple briefed on the re­mark­able Oval Of­fice con­ver­sa­tion.

The com­ments re­vived charges that the president is racist and roiled im­mi­gra­tion talks that were al­ready on ten­u­ous foot­ing.

“The lan­guage used by me at the DACA meet­ing was tough, but this was not the lan­guage used,” Trump in­sisted in a se­ries of Fri­day morn­ing tweets, push­ing back on some de­pic­tions of the meet­ing.

But Trump and his ad­vis­ers no­tably did not dis­pute the most con­tro­ver­sial of his re­marks: us­ing the word “shit­hole” to de­scribe African na­tions and say­ing he would pre­fer im­mi­grants from coun­tries like Nor­way in­stead.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illi­nois, the only Demo­crat in the room, said Trump had in­deed said what he was re­ported to have said. The re­marks, Durbin said, were “vile, hate-filled and clearly racial in their con­tent.”

He said Trump used the most vul­gar term “more than once.”

“If that’s not racism, I don’t know how you can de­fine it,” Florida GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Le­hti­nen told WPLG-TV in Mi­ami.

Tweeted Repub­li­can Sen. Jeff Flake of Ari­zona: “The words used by the president, as re­lated to me di­rectly fol­low­ing the meet­ing by those in at­ten­dance, were not ’tough,’ they were ab­hor­rent and re­pul­sive.”

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., called the com­ments “be­neath the dig­nity of the pres­i­dency” and said Trump’s de­sire to see more im­mi­grants from coun­tries like Nor­way was “an ef­fort to set this coun­try back gen­er­a­tions by pro­mot­ing a ho­moge­nous, white so­ci­ety.”

Repub­li­can lead­ers were largely silent, though House Speaker Paul Ryan said the vul­gar lan­guage was “very un­for­tu­nate, un­help­ful.”

Trump’s in­sults — along with his re­jec­tion of the bi­par­ti­san im­mi­gra­tion deal that six sen­a­tors had drafted — also threat­ened to fur­ther com­pli­cate ef­forts to ex­tend pro­tec­tions for hun­dreds of thou­sands of young im­mi­grants, many of whom were brought to this coun­try as chil­dren and now are here il­le­gally.

Trump last year ended the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, which pro­vided pro­tec­tion from de­por­ta­tion along with the abil­ity to work legally in the U.S. He gave Congress un­til March to come up with a leg­isla­tive fix.

The three Demo­cratic and three GOP sen­a­tors who’d struck their pro­posed deal had been work­ing for months on how to bal­ance those pro­tec­tions with Trump’s de­mands for bor­der se­cu­rity, an end to a visa lottery aimed at in­creas­ing im­mi­grant di­ver­sity, and lim­its to im­mi­grants’ abil­ity to spon­sor fam­ily mem­bers to join them in Amer­ica.

It’s un­clear now how a deal might emerge, and fail­ure could lead to a gov­ern­ment shut­down.

“The rhetoric just makes it more dif­fi­cult, and that’s un­for­tu­nate,” said Rep. Mike Simp­son, R-Idaho, a se­nior House law­maker.

“I don’t think it makes it im­pos­si­ble, but I sus­pect the Democrats are sit­ting there go­ing, ’Why would we want to com­pro­mise with him on any­thing?’”

There were also ques­tions about which law­mak­ers were in po­si­tion to con­duct mean­ing­ful talks. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 GOP se­na­tor, and other Repub­li­cans have de­rided the group of six sen­a­tors as hav­ing lit­tle clout.

Ini­tial bar­gain­ing has also oc­curred among a sep­a­rate group of four lead­ers — the sec­ond-rank­ing Repub­li­can and Demo­crat from both the House and Se­nate, a group to which both Cornyn and Durbin be­long.

At a fo­rum Fri­day at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Milwaukee, Ryan, R-Wis., said, “We just have to get it done.”

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