WASHINGTON - In an Oval Office meeting at the White House Thursday, President Trump grew frustrated at a proposed bipartisan immigration plan that would scale back the visa lottery program, but not eliminate it, asking those in the room why they would want people from Haiti, Africa and other "s---hole countries" coming into the United States, according to multiple sources either briefed on or familiar with the discussion.
The president suggested instead that the U.S. should have more people from places like Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday, according to these sources.
The White House did not deny that the president made these remarks. Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah issued this statement to ABC News:
"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. 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. He will always reject temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that threaten the lives of hardworking Americans, and undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway."
A senior White House official, speaking on background to ABC News, acknowledged that the president "grew frustrated when the conversation turned to the issue of the visa lottery deal."
According to a separate source, the president was set off after Senators Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who are part of a more moderate group of senators working on an immigration deal, proposed cutting the visa lottery program in half. The president, who has said he wants the program eliminated erupted at that point, according to the source, asking why they should allow people from Haiti, Africa and other "s---hole countries" to come to the United States. One official said salty language was used on both sides.
Trump's comments immediately sparked outrage from lawmakers.
Rep. Mia Love, a Republican from Utah who is Haitian American, demanded in a tweet that the president apologize:
Beyond the shocking language, Thursday's meeting represented a major hurdle in discussions over a permanent substitute for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, established by executive order by President Barack Obama, following Trump's announcement in September that he would end the program.
Several different groups of lawmakers are working on their own immigration proposals. Democrats and Republicans broadly agree that any solution should address four principles: a DACA solution, funding for border security measures and reform of the diversity visa lottery program and the practice of family-based migration.
DACA protects around 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants, brought to the United States when they were very young, from deportation. But if Congress fails to act, those DACA recipients could face deportation as early as March 6 because they were unable to renew their protection.
Members of the more moderate "Group of Six," consisting of Durbin, Graham, Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., began announcing to reporters early Thursday afternoon that they had reached an agreement in principle among themselves.
But around the same time they were touting their achievement, Graham and Durbin were meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office to brief him on their plan. The White House also invited more conservative members of both chambers to join: Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.
"Durbin and Graham had a clear plan to try to go and present their plan to the president and make their case and end run everyone else involved in negotiations," a source familiar with the meeting told ABC.
According to multiple sources, the Group of Six plan includes permanent protections for "Dreamers,"--which is what DACA recipients call themselves--$1.6 billion for border security, and revisions to the diversity visa lottery and what critics call "chain" migration.
The plan proposes taking the 50,000 visas currently allocated for the diversity lottery and splitting them between people who currently have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and people from African nations, which is what one source says caused Trump's outburst.
But in any case, the more conservative immigration hawks attending the meeting, who have their own proposals, say the moderate Group of Six's proposal is a nonstarter for them.
"Each of those things is insufficient," a source said.
One White House official directly involved in negotiations insists they are confident a deal can be reached, but that the moderate proposal has no chance to pass among the more conservative Republicans in the House. While the Senate had been aiming for a vote on a deal by the end of the month, the White House believes a deal can be reached by March 5, the day before DACA recipients would officially be eligible for deportation.