Donald Trump has denied using vulgar language during a private meeting with lawmakers as he faced a global backlash over his comments about immigrants.
But neither the US president nor the White House disputed the most controversial of his remarks in which he used the word “shithole” to describe African nations and said he would prefer immigrants from countries like Norway instead.
Mr Trump’s alleged comments came during an Oval Office meeting on Thursday where he questioned why America would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal.
The remarks were revealed by Democrat Senator Dick Durbin and people briefed on the extraordinary Oval Office conversation.
In a flurry of tweets yesterday, Mr Trump defended his immigration stance while claiming the reports about his meeting with senators were inaccurate.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Mr Trump said. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made.”
Mr Durbin disputed the president’s account. “He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly,” Mr Durbin said.
He added: “When the question was asked about Haitians… he said ‘Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?’”
Mr Trump took particular issue with the characterisation of his comments on Haiti, responding on Twitter: “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.”
Mr Trump continued: “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!”
Mr Trump’s comments came as two senators presented details of a bipartisan compromise that would protect DACA immigrants and also strengthen border protections.
But the deal was rejected by the US president, who contested that people who fled to America after disasters hit their homes in places such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti would be allowed to stay.
The administration announced last year that it would end a temporary residency permit programme that allowed nearly 60,000 Haitians to live and work in the US in the wake of a devastating 2010 earthquake.
Mr Trump also took issue with the idea that, while a lottery that benefits people from Africa and other nations would be ended, there could be another way for them to apply. His comments sparked widespread condemnation yesterday both within the US and worldwide.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Mr Trump’s vulgar slur about Africa was “very unfortunate, unhelpful” as he called immigration “a beautiful story of America”.
South Africa’s ruling party branded Mr Trump’s comment on African immigrants “extremely offensive”.
Deputy secretary general Jesse Duarte of the African National Congress pointed out the US itself has millions of people out of work or without health care.
The United Nations human rights office said the reported use of the expletive to describe Africa and other countries could “potentially damage and disrupt the lives of many people”.
Spokesman Rupert Colville said: “I’m sorry, but there’s no other word one can use but racist.”
Republican Senators David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who both attended the meeting, said in a statement they did not “recall the president saying these comments specifically”.