U.S. President Donald Trump scuttled an emerging bipartisan deal to protect hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants after he disparaged people from Africa and Haiti in racially charged terms that left lawmakers stunned.
Early Friday, Mr. Trump denied a portion of the reports that said that he had asked why the U.S. would admit people from "shithole countries" and expressed his preference for immigrants from countries such as Norway.
"Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country," he wrote on Twitter. He denied that he had told lawmakers in a meeting on Thursday to "take [Haitians] out" of the United States.
Neither Mr. Trump nor the White House contested the remarks when they were first reported. Mr. Trump's tweets appeared to be a belated attempt at damage control after a remarkable 12-hour period during which American journalists found themselves wrestling with whether to report the President's use of profanity verbatim and whether to label him a racist.
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018
Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, publicly confirmed on Friday that Mr. Trump had repeatedly referred to African countries as "shitholes" during a meeting at the White House aimed at forging a compromise on immigration. Mr. Durbin said that Mr. Trump had also questioned the need for more Haitians in the country.
Mr. Durbin said that his hope that the White House might approve a bipartisan deal to shield so-called "Dreamers" who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children "died" yesterday and that it was now up to lawmakers to act on their own.
In a series of tweets Friday morning, Mr. Trump slammed the bipartisan agreement forged by Mr. Durbin and a handful of senators from both parties. The proposed deal is a "big step backwards" and "outlandish," he wrote. Democrats are "not interested in life and safety."
The comments came just three days after Mr. Trump stated that he wanted a "bill of love" to shield Dreamers from deportation and said he would sign into law whatever bill lawmakers would support.
On Thursday, a small group of senators from both parties reached a tentative deal that would provide such immigrants with a 10-year path toward American citizenship in exchange for increased resources for border security, including funding for some kind of barrier on the frontier with Mexico.
Another part of the proposal aimed to assist people from Haiti and El Salvador who have been living in the U.S. for years under a separate temporary residence program that the Trump administration recently scrapped. It also envisioned changes to a visa lottery program that primarily benefits immigrants from Africa.
But when lawmakers arrived at the White House to seek Mr. Trump's approval for the deal, they found him flanked by Republican immigration hardliners and no longer in a compromising mood. During that discussion, he made his inflammatory comments about "shithole countries."
The remarks generated a firestorm of criticism at home and abroad. Mia Love, the first black Republican woman to be elected to the House of Representatives and the daughter of Haitian immigrants, said Mr. Trump's comments were "unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values." The President "must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned."
On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Mr. Trump's vulgar slur about Africa was "very unfortunate, unhelpful."
Ryan said his ancestors were Irish and "were really looked down upon." He called immigration "a great story" and said Haitians in his hometown of Janesville, Wisc., are "incredible citizens."
A handful of other Republican members of Congress also criticized Mr. Trump's comments but many senior Republicans remained silent. On Fox News, several commentators defended Mr. Trump's remarks.
Democrats, meanwhile, were unsparing in their criticism. Cedric Richmond, a member of the House of Representatives who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said the remarks confirmed "the concerns that we hear every day, that the President's slogan, 'Make America Great Again,' is really code for 'Make America White Again.' "
Television journalists struggled with how to describe the President's remarks, particularly given his history of making racially inflammatory comments, whether during the election campaign or in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Va., last year.
"The President seems to harbour racist feelings about people of colour from other parts of the world," said Jim Acosta of CNN on Thursday. That's "just a terrible thing to have come out of your mouth as a White House correspondent."
In Mr. Trump's hometown, the New York Daily News, a liberal tabloid, published an illustration of Mr. Trump on its front page in the guise of a poop emoji. The accompanying headline read "S**t for brains."
Haitian-Americans expressed feelings of disgust and betrayal. Farah Larrieux, a Haitian immigrant and organizer in Miami, told CBS that she recalled a visit Mr. Trump made to the city on the campaign trail where he promised to be a champion of the Haitian American community.
"This is beyond politics. The guy has no respect for anyone. I am trying not to cry," she said. "I can't understand how someone goes from making a statement in Little Haiti saying 'I want to be the biggest champion of Haiti' to calling Haiti a 'shithole.' It makes me sick."