WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump reportedly lashed out in a meeting with lawmakers about immigration reform, demanding to know why the US should accept citizens from what he called "s***hole" countries, such as Haiti and El Salvador, as well as African nations.
He made the comment during a discussion of an emerging bipartisan deal with members of Congress from both parties on Thursday to give legal status to immigrants illegally brought to the US as children, those with knowledge of the conversation said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
When Mr Trump heard Haitians were among those to benefit from the proposed deal, he allegedly asked whether they could be left out of the plan, asking, "Why do we want people from Haiti here?"
When the discussion turned to African nations, the sources said Mr Trump asked why he would want "all these people from s***hole countries", adding that the US should admit more people from places such as Norway, whose Prime Minister, Ms Erna Solberg, he met on Wednesday.
In a tweet yesterday morning, Mr Trump denied he had used the language ascribed to him. "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 - a big setback for DACA!" he wrote, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme.
But many Democrats and some Republican lawmakers slammed the President. Republican US Representative Mia Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants, said on Thursday that the alleged comments were "unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values". She called on Mr Trump to apologise to the American people and to the countries he denigrated.
They also spurred a harsh reaction from the United Nations, with rights office spokesman Rupert Colville yesterday describing them as "shocking and shameful".
"Sorry, but there is no other word one can use but 'racist'," he told reporters in Geneva.
In an apparent response to the criticism, Mr Trump took to Twitter late on Thursday night.
"The Democrats seem intent on having people and drugs pour into our country from the Southern Border, risking thousands of lives in the process," he tweeted. "It is my duty to protect the lives and safety of all Americans. We must build a Great Wall, think Merit and end Lottery & Chain. USA!"
On Thursday, Haitian President Jovenel Moise demanded a meeting with the top US diplomat in the country, Charge d'Affaires Robin Diallo, according to State Department officials. Mr Moise was expected to lodge a formal protest.
Several prominent Norwegians took to Twitter to vent their outrage. "The real White House: Trump calls Haiti and African countries 's***hole' countries to the face of members of Congress and uses Norway to prove his racism," wrote Mr Andreas Wiese, a newspaper commentator.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG