Trump reportedly made the remarks at a White House meeting on immigration on Thursday. U.S. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who attended the gathering, told reporters on Friday that Trump used “vile, vulgar” language, including repeatedly using the word “shithole” when speaking about African countries.
The Republican president’s comments were decried as racist by African and Haitian politicians, by the United Nations human rights office and by U.S. lawmakers from both major parties.
Trump, who has been accused of racism over several issues since he took office a year ago, sought to walk back the comments on Friday, saying on Twitter, “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.”
Trump also denied saying “anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country.”
According to two sources, at Thursday’s meeting Trump questioned why the United States would want to accept immigrants from Haiti and African nations, referring to some as “shithole countries.”
While many Republican lawmakers stayed quiet on Trump’s remarks, Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, called them “unfortunate” and “unhelpful,” noting in an interview on CNN that his family had emigrated to the United States from Ireland to help build the nation’s railroads.
Haiti said it was shocked by Trump’s reported remarks on Thursday and summoned the top U.S. diplomat in the country, asking for an apology if the vulgar term had been used.
El Salvador’s government sent the U.S. a formal letter of protest that said the president had “implicitly” accepted the use of “harsh terms detrimental to the dignity of El Salvador and other countries.”
Botswana also said it had summoned the U.S. ambassador to that country to “express its displeasure” and had asked him whether Botswana “is regarded as a ‘shithole’ country.”
Trump’s comments are extremely offensive to South Africa, said Jessie Duarte, a senior official with the ruling African National Congress. “Ours is not a shithole country. Neither is Haiti or any other country in distress,” she said.
In Geneva, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said “These are shocking and shameful comments from the president of the United States. There is no other word one can use but ‘racist.'”