President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they floated restoring protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to two people briefed on the meeting.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to African countries and Haiti. He then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met Wednesday.
The comments left lawmakers taken aback, according to people familiar with their reactions. Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) proposed cutting the visa lottery program by 50 percent and prioritizing countries already in the system, a White House official said.
A White House spokesman defended Trump’s position on immigration without directly addressing Trump’s remarks.
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement issued after The Washington Post first reported Trump’s remarks. “. . .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.”
Outlining a potential bipartisan deal, the lawmakers discussed restoring protections for countries that have been removed from the temporary protected status program while adding $1.5 billion for a border wall and making changes to the visa lottery system.
The administration announced this week that it was removing the protection for citizens of El Salvador.
Trump had seemed amenable to a deal earlier in the day during phone calls, aides said, but shifted his position in the meeting and did not seem interested.
Graham and Durbin thought they would be meeting with Trump alone and were surprised to find immigration hard-liners such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) at the meeting. The meeting was impromptu and came after phone calls Thursday morning, Capitol Hill aides said.
After the meeting, Marc Short, Trump’s legislative aide, said the White House was nowhere near a bipartisan deal on immigration.
“We still think we can get there,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the daily White House news briefing.