In this Jan 9, 2018, file photo, US President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with lawmakers on immigration policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. (EVAN VUCCI / AP)
WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump has denied calling countries in Africa and elsewhere "shithole countries", saying he used tough language but not the pejorative expression attributed to him.
"The language used by me at the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) meeting was tough, but this was not the language used," he tweeted.
The language used by me at the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) meeting was tough, but this was not the language used
Donald Trump, US President
The US leader has been under fire at home and abroad after some reports said he referred to Haiti and African nations as "shithole countries" during a meeting on an immigration deal with a group of bipartisan lawmakers at the White House on Thursday.
The comments reportedly came as the Republican and Democratic senators were briefing the president on changes to the US visa lottery system and considerations about immigration from Africa.
Trump first asked why the United States would want people from nations such as Haiti, and then reportedly asked why America would want immigrants from "all these shithole countries."
He also said that the United States should have more people coming in from countries like Norway.
He had met with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the White House a day earlier.
The White House released a statement that did not deny the remarks.
"Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people," White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said in the statement.
"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," the statement read.
The first wave of sharp criticism came from both Republican and Democrat lawmakers. House Republican Mia Love from Utah, who is the daughter of Haitian immigrants, released a statement demanding an apology from Trump.
The president's remark is "unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation's values," she said. "This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation."
"The president must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned."
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican lawmaker from Florida, tweeted that Trump's comment, if confirmed, "ignores the contributions thousands of Haitians have made to our #SoFla community and nation."
"Language like that shouldn't be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn't be heard in the White House," she said.
"As an American, I am ashamed of the president," said Democrat Representative Luis Gutierrez.
"His comments are disappointing, unbelievable, but not surprising," Gutierrez added, citing repeated disputes over Trump's comments on race since the 2016 US presidential campaign.
Haiti's Ambassador to the US Paul G. Altidor has formally requested that the Trump administration explain the comments, saying the remarks, made one day before the eighth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 200,000 people, is based on "cliches and stereotypes rather than actual fact."
The ambassador said he doesn't believe Trump's remark reflects the views of the American public and that he has been "bombarded by emails from the American public apologizing" for their president's "regrettable" comment.
The African Union said it was "alarmed" by Trump's statement.
"Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice," African Union spokesperson Ebba Kalondo said.
The US president's remark was "particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity," she said.
The Geneva-based Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Friday described Trump's comment as "shocking", "shameful" and "racist".
"These are shocking and shameful," OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said. "I'm sorry, but there's no other word one can use but 'racist'. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as 'shitholes', whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome."
Such remarks from the US president could "potentially damage and disrupt the lives of many people," Colville said.