WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES) - President Donald Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers on Thursday (Jan 11) in the Oval Office when they floated restoring protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to two people briefed on the meeting.
"Why are we having all these people from s***hole countries come here?" Trump said, according to these people, referring to African countries and Haiti.
He then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met yesterday.
The comments left lawmakers taken aback, according to people familiar with their reactions.
Senators Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and Richard Durbin, a Democrat, proposed cutting the visa lottery programme by 50 per cent and then prioritising countries already in the system, a White House official said.
In a written statement Thursday, Raj Shah, the White House deputy press secretary, did not deny the account or directly address Trump’s comments during the meeting.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” Shah said. “Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”
Outlining a potential bipartisan deal, the lawmakers discussed restoring protections for countries that have been removed from the temporary protected status programme while adding US$1.5 billion for a border wall and making changes to the visa lottery system.
The administration announced earlier this week that it was removing the protection for El Salvador.
Trump had seemed amenable to a deal earlier in the day during phone calls, aides said, but shifted his position in the meeting and did not seem interested.
Graham and Durbin thought they would be meeting with Trump alone and were surprised to find immigration hard-liners such as Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte and Republican Senator Tom Cotton, at the meeting. The meeting was impromptu and came after phone calls this morning, Capitol Hill aides said.
After the meeting, Marc Short, Trump's legislative aide, said the White House was nowhere near a bipartisan deal on immigration.
"We still think we can get there," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the White House press briefing.