During an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers on Thursday, President Donald Trump reportedly asked why the U.S. admitted immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti when it should admit more from nations like Norway.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump asked with lawmakers reportedly taken aback by his comments.
Two people, who were briefed on the meeting, told The Washington Post that Trump’s question referred specifically to Haiti and African countries.
The White House responded not by denying Trump made those comments, but by reiterating his concern with the current immigration system:
Erm, are we calling this “shithole-gate?” Here’s the WH’s response: pic.twitter.com/pASDKx4Eji
— Brittany Shepherd (@blrshepherd) January 11, 2018
He was talking with lawmakers who had raised the potential for crafting an immigration deal that restored protections for immigrants from countries such as Haiti and El Salvador.
His comments came while the White House and congressional leaders negotiated an immigration reform package, which Democrats hoped would include legal protection for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is known as DACA.
Trump, however, made clear that he wouldn’t support DACA legislation that omitted funding for his coveted southern border wall.
The president also repeatedly called for an end to the diversity lottery system and chain migration, two immigration policies that he said allowed Sayfullo Saipov to enter the U.S. and bring in family members before he allegedly killed eight in a New York City truck attack.
During the Thursday meeting, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) suggested a 50 percent cut to the lottery program, but it’s unclear whether Trump accepted that proposal.
While bipartisan groups of lawmakers meet to discuss a compromise, it’s unclear whether Congress will produce a viable immigration reform package for Trump to sign.
Graham previously voiced optimism that Trump could accomplish immigration reform, but, according to Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), the administration would likely face Democratic resistance.
In an interview on Sunday, Castro told MSNBC that “most” House Democrats would vote against an immigration package that funded a southern border wall.
Although the White House might not need Democratic support in a Republican-dominated Congress, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated on Thursday that the administration sought a compromise. “We’re very focused on trying to make sure that happens,” she said of a deal.
Sanders clarified, however, that the president had “priorities,” likely a reference to his interest in border wall funding.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to include the White House’s response.