Donald Trump defended himself on Sunday in the wake of recent disparaging comments about Haiti and African nations, declaring “I am not a racist”, as two Republican senators backtracked on their interpretation of the comments.
The president addressed the issue as he arrived for dinner at his private golf club with the House majority leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
Asked what he thinks about people who think he is racist, Trump said, “No, No. I am not a racist.”
“I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you,” he told reporters.
Trump has been accused of using the word “shithole” to describe African countries during an Oval Office meeting last Thursday with a bipartisan group of six senators. The president also questioned the need to admit more Haitians to the US, according to people who were briefed on the conversation but were not authorized to describe the meeting publicly.
Trump also said in the meeting that he would prefer immigrants from countries such as Norway instead.
Trump on Sunday denied making the statements attributed to him, but didn’t get into specifics about what he did or did not say.
“Did you see what various senators in the room said about my comments?” he asked. “They weren’t made.”
Two Republican senators who had earlier said they did not recall Trump using the vulgarity to describe African countries backtracked on Sunday and challenged other senators’ descriptions of the remark.
Georgia Senator David Perdue and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton had issued a statement on Friday saying they “do not recall the President saying those comments specifically.”
However, Perdue on Sunday described as a “gross misrepresentation” reports that Trump used the vulgarity. He said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were mistaken in indicating that was the case. All four senators were at the meeting.
“I am telling you that he did not use that word. And I’m telling you it’s a gross misrepresentation,” Perdue said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Cotton said he “didn’t hear” the word used “and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was,” Cotton told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s comments and the reaction to them have spotlighted the bitter divide among American evangelicals about his presidency.
While some of his evangelical backers expressed support for his leadership, many evangelical leaders who defended him in the past would not comment on the remarks. But other conservative Christians called the president racist and said church leaders had a moral imperative to condemn him.
“Your pro-life argument rings hollow if you don’t have an issue with this xenophobic bigotry,” tweeted pastor Earon James of Relevant Life Church in Pace, Florida.