Monday 21 May 2018

Partial denial, private defence

Donald Trump's off-hand labelling of Haiti and Africa as 's**tholes' have raised hackles around the world, writes Jill Colvin

THE MASTER OF DISRUPTION: US president Donald Trump flanked by vice president Mike Pence. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty
THE MASTER OF DISRUPTION: US president Donald Trump flanked by vice president Mike Pence. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty

US president Donald Trump has offered a partial denial in public over his extraordinary remarks disparaging Haitians and African countries - but privately defended them, according to an insider.

Trump said he was only expressing what many people think, but will not say, about immigrants from economically depressed countries, according to a source who spoke to the president as the controversy unfolded.

He spent last Thursday evening making a flurry of calls to friends and outside advisers to judge their reaction to the tempest, according to the insider.

Trump was not apologetic about his inflammatory remarks and denied he was racist, and instead blamed the media for distorting his meaning, according to his confidant.

Critics of the president, including some in his own Republican Party, attacked the vulgar comments he made behind closed doors.

In his meeting with a group of senators, Trump had questioned why the US would accept more immigrants from Haiti and "s**thole countries" in Africa as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to one participant and others who had been briefed on the remarkable Oval Office conversation.

The comments revived charges that the president is racist, and rocked immigration talks that were already on a tenuous footing.

In a series of tweets, Trump said: "The language used by me at the DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] meeting was tough, but this was not the language used."

However, his advisers notably did not dispute the most controversial of his reported remarks: using the word "s**thole" to describe African nations, and saying he would prefer immigrants from countries like Norway instead.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the only Democrat in the room, said Trump had indeed said what he was reported to have said.

The remarks, Durbin said, were "vile, hate-filled and clearly racial in their content". He said Trump used the most vulgar term "more than once".

Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein called the comments "beneath the dignity of the presidency" and said Trump's desire to see more immigrants from countries like Norway was "an effort to set this country back generations by promoting a homogeneous, white society".

Republican leaders were largely silent, although House Speaker Paul Ryan said the vulgar language was "very unfortunate, unhelpful".

Trump's comments came as Durbin was presenting details of the compromise plan that included providing $1.6bn financing for the first instalment of Trump's long-sought border wall.

Trump took particular issue with the idea that people who had fled to the US after disasters hit their homes in places such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti would be allowed to stay as part of the deal.

When it came to talk of extending protections for Haitians, the US president said: "We don't need more Haitians."

Mr Durbin told reporters of Trump's continued slurs.

"He said: 'Put me down for wanting more Europeans to come to this country. Why don't we get more people from Norway?'"

However Trump later insisted that he "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".

And he wrote: "I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings - unfortunately, no trust!"

Trump's insults sparked the African group of ambassadors to the UN to issue an extraordinary statement condemning his "outrageous, racist and xenophobic remarks" and also demand a retraction and apology.

Former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power shared the statement on Twitter, saying: "Whoa. I've never seen a statement like this by African countries directed at the US."

The statement from the African ambassadors expressed concern over the Trump regime's apparent increasing denigration of Africa "and people of colour".

Yesterday Ghana's president Nana Akufo-Addo called Trump's remark "extremely unfortunate" and said that "we will not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful."

© Reuters

Reuters

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