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Trump questions why U.S. welcomes people from "sh*thole" countries

Last Updated Jan 11, 2018 9:40 PM EST

President Trump questioned why the U.S. is accepting people from "sh*thole" countries, when lawmakers suggested bringing back legal protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as a part of a broader immigration deal, CBS News' Nancy Cordes confirms, citing a person briefed on the meeting.

"Why are we having all these people from sh*thole countries come here?" the president said in the Thursday afternoon Oval Office meeting with a handful of members of the House and Senate. "We should bring in more people from places like Norway," he added. Norway's prime minister visited the White House Wednesday. The Trump administration recently decided to soon end Temporary Protected Status for citizens of countries like Haiti and El Salvador, who came to the U.S. to escape natural disasters.

The comments came about after Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, was describing for the president which countries with the protected status would be protected under the diversity visa program. Durbin threw out a few examples, including Haiti, and the president asked why the U.S. would want all those people from Haiti. A little later, when the group was discussing the visa lottery program, and African immigrants were mentioned, the president asked, why Africa? This led to his "sh*thole" comment.

The Washington Post first reported Mr. Trump's remarks, later adding more detail on the president's comments. The Post repoted Mr. Trump also suggested going one step further with immigrants from Haiti:

"Why do we need more Haitians?" Mr. Trump said, the Post reported, citing people familiar with the meeting. "Take them out." 

The comments shocked some lawmakers present, according to the Washington Post.

The White House did not deny the president's reported remarks.

"Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people," White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement. "The president will only accept an immigration deal that adequately addresses the visa lottery system and chain migration – two programs that hurt our economy and allow terrorists into our country.  Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation. He will always reject temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that threaten the lives of hardworking Americans, and undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway."

Rep. Mia Love, a Utah Republican whose family comes from Haiti, called on the president to apologize for his "divisive" and "elitist" comments. 

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who was born in Cuba and represents a diverse district in Miami-Dade County, said the president's language "shouldn't be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn't be heard in the White House."

Democrats in Congress seized on the president's comments, and the Congressional Black Caucus said the remarks are, "further proof that his Make America Great Again agenda is really a Make America White Again agenda."

The president was meeting with a handful of lawmakers to discuss how they might reach an immigration deal. Senators attending the meeting included Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina; Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas; David Perdue, R-Georgia, Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; and Reps. Kevin McCarthy, R-California, Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida.

Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said senators and the White House had not yet reached a deal, although a slightly different group of senators later said they had reached an "agreement in principle."

CBS News' Nancy Cordes contributed to this report.

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.