PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump said Sunday that he is “not a racist” and denied that he had used the term “shithole countries” to describe Haiti and some African nations. “No, I'm not a racist,” he told reporters. “I'm the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”
Trump spoke before having dinner with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) at his Trump International Golf Club. His remarks were an extraordinary statement about the president's mind-set at a time when his views on race and immigration are under widespread attack.
He spoke evenly, without obvious anger, when asked how he responds to charges that he is a racist. He did not appear surprised by the question, which came during an exchange about a potential immigration overhaul in Congress.
Trump was asked about the “shithole” comment, allegedly made during an Oval Office meeting Thursday and first reported by The Washington Post, and whether it had harmed chances for a legislative deal on immigration.
“Did you see what various senators in the room said about my comments? They were not made,” Trump said.
Rep. John Lewis (Ga.) is among Democrats who have called Trump's vulgarity reprehensible. On Sunday, he said he thinks Trump is a racist.
"We have to stand up. We have to speak up and not try to sweep it under the rug," Lewis said on ABC's "This Week."
Last year, Trump drew worldwide criticism when he made equivocal remarks about white supremacists and did not immediately condemn racist violence in Charlottesville. His criticism of National Football League players, most of them black, who knelt rather than stood during the national anthem also was blasted by some as racist.
Trump's political brand was built on appeal to whites, many of them of modest income and education, who embraced his "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan and promises to restore blue-collar jobs and American international prestige.
His "America First" foreign policy carries strains of isolationism and trade exclusion, but Trump has not governed as a true isolationist and regularly says that "America First does not mean America alone."
On immigration, although Trump disputes the reported wording, he has not disavowed the underlying argument that the United States accepts too many people from poor nations. His critics view that as a thin disguise for places that are home to black and brown people. As reported by The Post, he suggested in a meeting with lawmakers last week that the United States should instead accept more immigrants from countries such as Norway.