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US president: No, no. I'm not a racist

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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FLORIDA, USA (AP) — President Donald Trump is defending himself anew against accusations that he is racist, this time after recent disparaging comments about Haiti and African nations.

“No, no. I'm not a racist,” Trump said Sunday, after reporters asked him to respond to those who think he is. “I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed — that I can tell you.”

Trump also denied making the statements attributed to him, but avoided the details of what he did or did not say.

“Did you see what various senators in the room said about my comments?” he asked, referring to lawmakers who were meeting with him in the Oval Office on Thursday when Trump is said to have made the comments. “They weren't made.”

Trump stands accused of using “sh..hole” to describe African countries during an immigration meeting with a bipartisan group of six senators. The president, in the meeting, also questioned the need to admit more Haitians to the US, according to people who were briefed on the conversation but were not authorised to describe the meeting publicly.

Trump said in the meeting that he would prefer immigrants from countries like Norway instead.

The White House has not denied that Trump said “sh..hole”, though Trump has already pushed back on some depictions of the meeting.

A confidant of Trump's told The Associated Press that the president spent Thursday evening calling friends and outside advisers to judge their reaction to his remarks. Trump wasn't apologetic and denied he was racist, instead blaming the media for distorting his meaning, said the confidant, who wasn't authorised to disclose a private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sen Dick Durbin of Illinois, the only Democrat at Thursday's meeting, said Trump had indeed said what he was reported to have said. Durbin said the remarks were “vile, hate-filled and clearly racial in their content“. He said Trump used the most vulgar term “more than once“.

Trump commented as Durbin was presenting details of a compromise immigration plan that included providing US$1.6 billion for a first instalment of the president's long-sought border wall.

Trump took particular issue with the idea that people who'd fled to the US 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 briefed on the conversation.

Trump has defended himself against accusations of being a racist on numerous occasions, including during his insistence that President Barack Obama was not American-born and after he opened his presidential campaign in 2015 by describing Mexicans as rapists and drug peddlers.

Word of Trump's comments threatened to upend delicate negotiations over resolving the status of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. Trump announced last year that he will end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme, or unless lawmakers come up with a solution by March. The programme shielded these immigrants, often referred to as “Dreamers”, from deportation and granted them permits to work.

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