WASHINGTON – President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they floated restoring protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to two people briefed on the meeting.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to African countries and Haiti. He then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met Wednesday.
In addition, the president singled out Haiti, telling lawmakers that immigrants from that country must be left out of any deal, these people said.
"Why do we need more Haitians?" Trump said, according to people familiar with the meeting. "Take them out."
The comments left lawmakers taken aback, according to people familiar with their reactions. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) proposed cutting the visa lottery program by 50 percent and then prioritizing countries already in the system, a White House official said.
The White House released a statement Thursday that did not deny Trump used profanity in the immigration discussion.
Spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement that while some "Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries," Trump "will always fight for the American people."
He said Trump wants to welcome immigrants who "contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation," and will always reject "temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures" that he says "threaten the lives of hardworking Americans" and undercut other immigrants.
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.
Trump has claimed without evidence that Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, wasn't born in the United States, has said Mexican immigrants were "bringing crime" and were "rapists," and said there were "very fine people on both sides" after violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., left one counter-protester dead.
"Racist," tweeted Rep. Kathleen Rice (D., N.Y.) after Thursday's story broke.
Trump has called himself the "least racist person that you've ever met."
Democrats were quick to note that Trump employs Haitians at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and that he praised Haitian Americans during a roundtable in Miami last September. Trump's critics also said racially incendiary language could damage relationships with foreign allies.
For many of Trump's supporters, however, the comments may not prove to be particularly damaging. Trump came under fire from conservatives earlier this week for seeming to suggest he would be open to a comprehensive immigration reform deal without money for a border wall, before he quickly backtracked.
"He's trying to win me back," conservative author Ann Coulter, who has called for harsh limits on immigration, wrote on Twitter.
In the Oval Office meeting, the lawmakers discussed restoring protections for countries that have been removed from the temporary protected status program while adding $1.5 billion for a border wall and making changes to the visa lottery system.
The administration announced earlier this week that it was removing the protection for El Salvador.
Trump had seemed amenable to a deal earlier in the day during phone calls, aides said, but shifted his position in the meeting and did not seem interested.
Graham and Durbin thought they would be meeting with Trump alone and were surprised to find immigration hard-liners such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) at the meeting. White House and Capitol Hill aides say Stephen Miller, the president's top immigration official, was concerned there could be a deal proposed that was too liberal and made sure other conservative lawmakers were present.
After the meeting, Marc Short, Trump’s legislative aide, said the White House was nowhere near a bipartisan deal on immigration.
“We still think we can get there,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the White House press briefing.
The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe, Maria Sacchetti and Erica Werner contributed to this article, which also contains information from the Associated Press.