In the midst of a contentious immigration debate, the president’s dog whistle has become an air horn.
n Thursday afternoon, as the White House basked in the afterglow of the president’s ability to contain himself for 55 minutes, Donald Trump brought their triumphant parade to a screeching halt, calling into question not only his own mental fitness, but the possibility of a bipartisan deal on immigration reform. When a bipartisan group of senators approached the president with a tentative immigration agreement, which included protections for Dreamers, an additional $1.5 billion in border-security funding, and the possibility of restoring protections for countries recently removed from the temporary-protected-status program, the president responded with an outburst that reportedly alarmed the group.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” he asked in reference to African countries and Haiti, according to The Washington Post. Instead, the president reportedly suggested that the U.S. should encourage immigration from countries like Norway.
NBC News confirmed the report, and a number of lawmakers quickly responded on Twitter, characterizing the comment as racist. The White House did not deny that Trump had used the term. “Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people. The president will only accept an immigration deal that adequately addresses the Visa lottery system and chain migration—two programs that hurt our economy and allow terrorists into our country,” Raj Shah, the White House deputy press secretary, said in a statement. “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 to our great nation.”
Nor are White House staffers particularly concerned that the remark will hurt the president. According to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, some are “predicting it will actually resonate with his base, not alienate it, much like his attacks on N.F.L. players who kneel during the national anthem.”
Trump was said to have made similar comments during an Oval Office meeting with Cabinet officials and administration aides last year. According to The New York Times,Trump expressed frustration with allowing Haitians to immigrate to the United States, claiming that they “all have AIDS” and that Nigerians would “never go back to theirs huts” if allowed to enter the country. But with the president currently in the midst of a contentious immigration debate, his remarks could have a lasting impact on the undertones of the policy his administration chooses to implement.