DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's sum up President Trump's message on immigration yesterday. And I want to warn you - according to our sources, he used a word that might offend you. He asked why the United States should welcome immigrants from shithole countries. He was referring to nations in Africa. And Trump suggested, maybe bring people from places like Norway instead.
I want to turn to NPR's congressional correspondent Scott Detrow who's with me. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, David.
GREENE: All right, so some questions this morning about whether the president actually said this word or not. What's going on?
DETROW: So here's what we know. Multiple sources told NPR last night that he did say it. Many other news outlets reported the same thing. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin was in the meeting. He talked to reporters this morning. Here's what he says.
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DICK DURBIN: I cannot believe that in the history of the White House and that Oval Office any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.
DETROW: Now, President Trump this morning tweeted - (reading) the language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.
But again, David, I would say last night when the White House issued a statement on this topic, they did not deny that he used those words.
GREENE: You mentioned DACA. That's the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This was central to the discussion that was going on at the White House. Some senators came looking for a bipartisan deal on immigration. Instead, the president has overshadowed all of that with these comments. What has been the reaction on Capitol Hill?
DETROW: You know, there's been broad condemnation of this statement, and there was right away. Here's one statement from Democrat Cedric Richmond of Louisiana. He's the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He said this statement is yet another confirmation of Trump's racially insensitive and ignorant views. A lot of Republicans are criticizing Trump as well. Mia Love, a Utah congresswoman, called the statements unkind, divisive and elitist. She said they fly in the face of our nation's values.
GREENE: Scott, thanks a lot.
DETROW: Thank you.
GREENE: That was NPR's Scott Detrow.
Now, that vulgar term the president was using was for African nations. The president also had some disparaging comments in that meeting about Haitians. And they seemed to contradict what he told Haitian-American voters in September of 2016.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Whether you vote for me or you don't vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion. And I will be your champion.
GREENE: Very different comments about Haitians yesterday. Our sources tell us that in that meeting, the president questioned why the United States would admit people from countries like Haiti. Earlier this morning, we spoke about this in our studios with the Haitian ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor.
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GREENE: Thanks for coming in. We appreciate it.
PAUL ALTIDOR: Thank you for having me.
GREENE: And I do think we should note that this is the eighth anniversary of a devastating earthquake in your country. And we're certainly all thinking about the ongoing recovery efforts there.
ALTIDOR: That's correct. And it's quite regrettable that we are not discussing about the earthquake and how Haiti is moving forward. And yet, we are talking about something that is quite sad today.
GREENE: Well, unfortunately, I do need to talk to you about this because this was a comment by the president of the United States yesterday...
ALTIDOR: Of course.
GREENE: ...Referring to your country. And I do want to ask what your reaction was.
ALTIDOR: Well, we were surprised, disappointed. Also, we want to condemn if those statements were made. Unfortunately, we fear once again Haiti finds itself in the midst of a very negative narrative in the U.S. And we're hoping this conversation would be an opportunity to address the Haiti conversation here in the U.S. once and for all.
DURBIN: Is your government talking about possible ways to respond to these comments?
ALTIDOR: Well, first, we - again, those statements have not been verified other than what we've been hearing in the press. So as a government, what we did - we did summon the U.S. charge d'affaires in Haiti to clarify, to at least say whether or not these statements were true - and if they were to be true, possibly an apology, again, for what was said here because we thought they were misplaced - they were misguided.
A lot is being said about immigration and immigrants, in particular Haitian immigrants, here. And unfortunately, it appears that if the president were to have said those things, he was misinformed or ill-advised on them, in part because there's a long history between the people of Haiti and the people of the United States. Haitians came here and fought in the American independence war back in 1779. So as a people, as a country, we've been a partner. We've been a strong neighbor. We've been a good friend of the people of the United States. And today Haitians are still here working hard, contributing to the social and economic fabric of this country.
GREENE: Well, can I ask you about that contribution because when the White House was responding to all of this yesterday, the White House suggested that what the president is talking about - although they did neither confirm nor deny the exact comments - but that his essential argument is that preference should be given to immigrants into this country who are bigger contributors to the United States' economy. If you had the chance to talk to him, what would you say to him in response?
ALTIDOR: Again, that's what I'm saying. This - there's a lot of misconception. There's a lot of cliches here about Haitians and our contribution to this society. The great city of Chicago was created by a Haitian. And to this day, if you go on college campuses - if you go in many - even if you go to NASA, there are Haitian scientists working there. In many communities - whether you go to Florida; whether here in Washington, D.C., and the DMV area; whether you go in Boston - in many parts of the country, Haitians have been great contributors to this country. So the notion that we're simply here to actually take advantage of the U.S., it's actually misinformed information. So those cliches, we hope, as a result of the statement that was allegedly made, we can begin to move away from those narratives because they're actually not true.
GREENE: Haiti's ambassador to the United States Paul Altidor joining us in our studios this morning.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much. We really appreciate it.
ALTIDOR: It's a pleasure. Like I said, we hoped that this would have been an opportunity to talk about the earthquake and the good progress the country of Haiti is making today. Thank you very much.
GREENE: As I said, we're all thinking about the recovery efforts. I know it's been a long, long journey.
ALTIDOR: Thank you.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: NPR has decided in this case to spell out the vulgar word that the president reportedly used because it meets our standard for use of offensive language. It is “absolutely integral to the meaning and spirit of the story being told.” ]
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