WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday offered a partial denial in public but privately defended his extraordinary remarks disparaging Haitians and African countries a day earlier. Trump said he was only expressing what many people think but won’t say about immigrants from economically depressed countries, according to a person who spoke to the president as criticism of his comments ricocheted around the globe.
Trump spent Thursday evening making a flurry of calls to friends and outside advisers to judge their reaction to the tempest, said the confidant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to disclose a private conversation. Trump wasn’t apologetic about his inflammatory remarks and denied he was racist, instead, blaming the media for distorting his meaning, the confidant said.
However, critics of the president, including some in his own Republican Party, spent Friday blasting the vulgar comments he made behind closed doors. In his meeting with a group of senators, he had questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to one participant and people briefed on the remarkable Oval Office conversation.
The comments revived charges that the president is racist and roiled immigration talks that were already on tenuous footing.
“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump insisted in a series of Friday morning tweets, pushing back on some depictions of the meeting.
But Trump and his advisers notably did not dispute the most controversial of his remarks: using the word “shithole” to describe African nations and saying he would prefer immigrants from countries like Norway instead.
Sen. 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.”
“If that’s not racism, I don’t know how you can define it,” Florida GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told WPLG-TV in Miami.
Tweeted Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona: “The words used by the president, as related to me directly following the meeting by those in attendance, were not ‘tough,’ they were abhorrent and repulsive.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., 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 homogenous, white society.”
Republican leaders were largely silent, though House Speaker Paul Ryan said the vulgar language was “very unfortunate, unhelpful.”
Trump’s insults — along with his rejection of the bipartisan immigration deal that six senators had drafted — also threatened to further complicate efforts to extend protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, many of whom were brought to this country as children and now are here illegally.
Trump last year ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provided protection from deportation along with the ability to work legally in the U.S. He gave Congress until March to come up with a legislative fix.
The three Democratic and three GOP senators who’d struck their proposed deal had been working for months on how to balance those protections with Trump’s demands for border security, an end to a visa lottery aimed at increasing immigrant diversity, and limits to immigrants’ ability to sponsor family members to join them in America.
It’s unclear now how a deal might emerge, and failure could lead to a government shutdown.
Lawmakers have until Jan. 19 to approve a government-wide stopgap spending bill, and Republicans will need Democratic votes to push the measure through. But some Democrats have threatened to withhold support unless an immigration pact is forged.
Trump’s comments came as Durbin was presenting details of the compromise plan that included providing $1.6 billion for a first installment of the president’s long-sought border wall.
Trump took particular issue with the idea that people who’d fled to the U.S. after disasters hit their homes in places such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti would be allowed to stay as part of the deal, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly describe the discussion.
When it came to talk of extending protections for Haitians, Durbin said Trump replied: “We don’t need more Haitians.’”
“He said ‘Put me down for wanting more Europeans to come to this country. Why don’t we get more people from Norway?” Durbin told reporters in Chicago.
Trump did not respond to shouted questions about his comments as he signed a proclamation Friday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is Monday.
Republican Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who both attended the Thursday meeting, said in a statement that they “do not recall the president saying these comments specifically.” What Trump did do, they said, was “call out the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest.”
But Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whom Durbin said had voiced objection to Trump’s comments during the meeting, issued a statement that did not dispute the remarks.
WASHINGTON — American diplomats scrambled Friday to salvage their nation’s bonds with Africa, Haiti and even the celebrated “special relationship” with Britain after President Donald Trump, in the span of a few hours, deeply offended much of the world with the most undiplomatic of remarks.
Trump’s description of African nations as a “shithole” and other inflammatory comments became the latest and perhaps most direct test of whether America’s global partnership can withstand its president’s loose lips. In Washington and far-flung foreign capitals, U.S. officials launched into urgent cleanup mode.
As world leaders denounced the comments as racist, Trump’s ambassadors to Botswana and Senegal were both summoned to explain his remark, as was the top U.S. diplomat in Haiti, where there is no ambassador, State Department officials said. In addition to the Africa slur, Trump during a meeting Thursday with lawmakers questioned why the U.S. would need more Haitian immigrants.
The White House, too, was reeling from the fallout. Staffers fanned out to do television appearances in support of Trump and reached out to Republicans on Capitol Hill to coordinate damage control.
Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein, in charge of U.S. public diplomacy, said Trump has the right to “make whatever remark he chooses,” calling it the benefit of being president. He said Trump’s comments notwithstanding, it was diplomats’ obligation to send the message to other countries that the United States cares “greatly about the people that are there.”
“Will they have to work extra hard to send it today? Yes, they will, but that’s OK,” Goldstein said. “That’s part of the responsibility that they have. It doesn’t change what we do.”
But how does anyone — even a seasoned diplomat — explain to a foreign leader why the U.S. president would use such a demeaning epithet to describe their country? What could they say to keep the relationship on track?
State Department officials said they were advising diplomats to prepare to get an earful, and to focus on listening to and acknowledging those countries’ concerns. Rather than try to interpret or soften Trump’s remarks, diplomats were encouraged to focus on specific areas where the two countries are cooperating — trade, for example — and to emphasize that those tangible aspects of the relationship transcend anything the president did or didn’t say, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to disclose private conversations and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
“I think you just have to take it. It’s almost impossible for diplomats to say something that would make an African government feel better,” said Grant Harris, who ran Africa policy at the White House under former President Barack Obama. “So you say the U.S. government is committed to being a strong partner and that actions speak louder than words.
“The problem is, for many other administrations, the actions spoke more loudly,” Harris added.
There was at least as much at stake in the president’s jab at the United Kingdom — perhaps the most important U.S. relationship. Facing protests during an upcoming trip to London to open the new U.S. embassy, Trump canceled his visit and said on Twitter it was to protest the “bad deal” the Obama administration reached for the new embassy building. In fact, President George W. Bush’s administration announced the embassy would move because of unsolvable security concerns about the old one.
Trump ignored shouted questions about his Africa comment and about whether he’s a racist during an event Friday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. But he wasn’t silent the night before.
As his comments, disclosed by participants in the meeting, ricocheted around the world, Trump made calls to friends and outside advisers to judge their reaction to the tempest, said a person who spoke to Trump but wasn’t authorized to discuss a private conversation.
He wasn’t apologetic, the person said. Instead, Trump blamed the media for distorting his meaning, arguing his description of “shithole” was not racist but rather a straightforward assessment of some nations’ depressed conditions. Trump also said he believed he was expressing what many people think, according to the person.
The long-term damage to America’s global relationships was difficult to predict. But foreign policy experts agreed it could only further alienate the United States at a time when many nations already see the U.S. as a less reliable partner than in the past.
In Africa, where the U.S. has long enjoyed widespread popularity, it was possible that countries would ultimately decide they have little recourse other than lodging angry complaints. After all, many of those nations rely on military and economic assistance from Washington. Haiti, though geographically close to the U.S. and historically intertwined, is not a major diplomatic player or key partner for trade, counterterrorism or other top priorities.
Ambassador James Jeffrey, the former U.S. envoy to Turkey and Iraq under Bush, said the ramifications of Trump’s remarks extended far beyond the countries he insulted. He said the “shithole” comment, in particular, would rattle European nations who fear a return to the xenophobic world view that devastated the continent during World War II.
“Where this is going to hurt us is with the Europeans when we turn to them for other things that require a you-just-have-to-trust-us kind of thing, like right now on Iran,” Jeffrey said. “It makes it very hard for them to go out on a limb with things he’s asking them to do.”
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday delivered an ultimatum to America’s European allies to fix the “terrible flaws” in the Iran nuclear deal, or he’ll pull the U.S. out in a few months’ time.
Trump made the threat as he extended waivers of key economic sanctions on Iran, keeping the accord alive at least for now. But his explicit warning to Europe that the deal must be fixed by the time the next sanctions waivers are due in the spring creates a high-stakes diplomatic deadline that will be difficult to meet.
“This is a last chance,” Trump warned in a statement that outlined several tough new rules on Iran. “In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.”
Trump’s declaration puts great pressure on Britain, France and Germany, the European signatories to the nuclear pact with Iran. Trump wants them to help the U.S. devise a new agreement designed to prevent Iran from escalating nuclear activity again next decade, as permitted under the 2015 arrangement reached by President Barack Obama.
Iran has said it’s not interested in any renegotiation and would almost certainly view a side agreement between the U.S. and Europe as a violation of the deal. The Europeans, meanwhile, have said they are willing to discuss the matter with the U.S. but have shown little enthusiasm with Trump’s hard line.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif accused Trump of “maliciously violating” the nuclear deal.
“Trump’s policy (and) today’s announcement amount to desperate attempts to undermine a solid multilateral agreement,” Zarif tweeted shortly after Trump’s statement. “Rather than repeating tired rhetoric, US must bring itself into full compliance — just like Iran.”
The sanctions Trump had to waive Friday dealt with Iran’s central bank. These penalties largely cut Iran out of the international financial system, until they were suspended by Obama under the nuclear deal. Trump is also waiving other U.S. penalties covered by the agreement, including on Iran’s oil and gas sectors, which were up for renewal next week.
Trump will next have to deal with these decisions in mid-May.
He paired Friday’s concession with other, targeted sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses and ballistic missile development. The Treasury Department’s action hits 14 Iranian officials and companies and businessmen from Iran, China and Malaysia, freezing any assets they have in the U.S. and banning Americans from doing business with them.
Those hit by the sanctions include: Iranian judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani; the Rajaee Shahr Prison and its director, Gholamreza Ziaei; the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Electronic Warfare and Cyber Defense Organization; Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace and National Cyberspace Center; Malaysia-based Green Wave Telecommunication and its Iranian director Morteza Razavi; and the Iran Helicopter Support and Renewal Company and Iran Aircraft Industries.
In his lengthy statement, Trump said the U.S. would work with European partners to remove the nuclear deal’s so-called “sunset clauses,” which allow Iran to gradually resume advanced atomic activity.
“Today, I am waiving the application of certain nuclear sanctions, but only in order to secure our European allies’ agreement to fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal,” Trump said.
“If at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately,” he added. “No one should doubt my word.”