Trump: I’m not a racist
US president denies 's***hole' remarks, says Democrats against immigration deal
WEST PALM BEACH: US President Donald Trump insisted on Sunday that he wasn't a racist in response to reports that he had described immigrants from Haiti and African countries as coming from "s***hole countries".
Mr Trump also said he was "ready, willing and able" to reach a deal to protect illegal immigrants brought to the US as children from being deported but that he did not believe Democrats wanted an agreement.
He tweeted earlier on Sunday that the existing program would "probably" be discontinued.
The debate over immigration policy became increasingly acrimonious after it was reported on Thursday that the Republican president used the word "s***hole" to describe Haiti and African countries in a private meeting with lawmakers.
The comments led to harsh recriminations from Democrats and Republicans alike, with critics accusing Trump of racism, even as talks continued in Congress to seek a bipartisan compromise to salvage the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme, or Daca.
Asked by a reporter in Florida whether he was a racist, Trump said: "No. I'm not a racist. I'm the least racist person you have ever interviewed."
Mr Trump has threatened to end Daca, but told reporters before dinner on Sunday night: "We're ready, willing and able to make a deal on Daca, but I don't think the Democrats want to make a deal… The Democrats are the ones that aren't going to make a deal."
Efforts to extend the programme are complicated because it could make a funding bill to avert a government shutdown on Friday more difficult.
"Daca is probably dead because the Democrats don't really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our military," Mr Trump had said earlier on Twitter.
A US judge ruled last Tuesday that Daca should remain in effect until legal challenges brought in multiple courts are resolved.
"I hope that we are actually going to work on fixing Daca," said Republican congresswoman Mia Love on CNN on Sunday. "We cannot let this derail us."
Ms Love, whose parents are from Haiti, had criticized Trump for his remarks and called on him to apologise.
Mr Trump denied making the disparaging remarks, although US senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat who was at the White House meeting, said the president had used the term.
Asked on Sunday whether his remarks made it harder to get a deal, Mr Trump said: "Did you see what various senators in the room say about my comments? They weren't bad."
Lawmakers hope to reach an immigration deal before Friday, when Congress must pass a funding bill or the government will shut down. Some Democrats insist that the Daca question be addressed by then.
But the president's inflammatory comments left lawmakers struggling to find a path forward.
"I hope we can move beyond that. What was reported was unacceptable. But what we have to do is not let that define this moment," said Republican senator Cory Gardner on CBS.
Republican senator David Perdue, who was at the same White House meeting and had said he did not recall whether Trump made the comment, called the stories a "gross misrepresentation".
However, Republicans and Democrats have both said they either heard Mr Trump say it, or heard directly from colleagues who did.
Republican senator Jeff Flake said he was told about the remarks by colleagues who attended the meeting, before the news reports emerged.
"I heard that account before the account even went public," he said. - REUTERS