Donald Trump has been widely condemned for using bluntly vulgar language as he questioned why the US should accept more immigrants from Haiti and “s***hole countries” in Africa rather than places like Norway.
The president’s contemptuous description of an entire continent – as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal – startled legislators in the Oval Office meeting, sources said, and immediately revived charges that the president is racist.
The White House did not deny his remark but issued a statement saying Mr Trump supports immigration policies that welcome “those who can contribute to our society”.
His comments came as two senators presented details of a bipartisan compromise that would extend protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, and also strengthen border protections.
The lawmakers had hoped he would back the accord, an agreement among six senators evenly split among Republicans and Democrats, ending a bitter dispute over protecting the “Dreamers”.
But the White House later rejected it, plunging the issue back into uncertainty eight days before a deadline that threatens a government shutdown.
Dick Durbin, the Senate’ s number two Democrat, said people who would be allowed to stay in the US under the deal included those who had fled disasters in places such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti.
Trump specifically questioned why the US would want to admit more people from Haiti.
As for Africa, he asked why more people from “s***hole countries” should be allowed into the US, the sources said.
The president suggested the US should instead allow more entrants from countries like Norway. He had met Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg earlier this week.
White House spokesman Raj Shah did not deny the comments were made, but said: “Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people.”
Trump’s remarks were remarkable even by the standards of a president who has been accused by his foes of racist attitudes and has routinely smashed through public decorum that his modern predecessors have generally embraced.
He has claimed without evidence that Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, was not born in the US; said Mexican immigrants were “bringing crime” and were “rapists”; and claimed there were “very fine people on both sides” after violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left a counter-protester dead.
House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer said: “President Trump’s comments are racist and a disgrace.”
Republican Mia Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, said Trump’s comments were “unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation’s values”.
She added: “This behaviour is unacceptable from the leader of our nation,” and called on Mr Trump to apologise to the American people “and the nations he so wantonly maligned”.