President Donald Trump questioned senators in an Oval Office meeting Thursday on why the U.S. accepts immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations rather than places like Norway, according to three people briefed on the conversation.
The White House didn’t dispute the quotations. Asked about the account, White House spokesman Raj Shah said “certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people.”
Trump made the comments in a meeting with lawmakers who suggested restoring protections for people from those countries as part of a broader bipartisan agreement on immigration issues, the three people said. The Washington Post first reported Trump’s remarks.
Shah went on to list the White House’s demands for an agreement that would protect undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children and stressed that the president favors merit-based immigration.
The president made the comments on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti, killing as many as 300,000 people. On Thursday, Haitian President Jovenel Moise demanded a meeting with the top American diplomat in the country, Charge d’Affaires Robin Diallo, according to State Department officials. Moise was expected to lodge a formal protest. Michele Sison has been confirmed as the new U.S. ambassador, but has not yet arrived.
The officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a diplomatic matter, are concerned that the episode may provoke protests in Haiti because commemorations have been planned to mark the anniversary.
In the U.S., strong criticism followed initial reports of the Oval Office episode, with most though not all of it coming from Democrats.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who wasn’t in the meeting, in a tweet called the president’s remarks, “Breathtakingly offensive. Worse, it’s ignorant of American ideals.”
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