White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not deny that Donald Trump had called Haiti and some African nations "s***hole countries" on Tuesday, saying the President himself had never denied using harsh language on immigration.
Asked why Mr Trump had defended the comments privately but denied them publicly, Ms Sanders said: “The President hasn’t said he didn’t use strong language."
"This is an important issue, he’s passionate about it, he’s not going to apologise for trying to fix our immigration system," she added.
Several attendees at an Oval Office meeting on immigration last week said the President wondered aloud why the US took in immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries, asking: “Why are we having all these people from s***hole countries come here?”
The White House did not initially deny the report, but after a bipartisan backlash – in which many accused the President of being racist – Mr Trump fired back.
"The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used," he tweeted.
But Mr Trump spent the evening before calling friends and advisers to defend his remarks, according to the Associated Press. The President told confidants that he was not racist and that the press had distorted the meaning of his words, a person familiar with the situation said.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin confirmed that Mr Trump had used the word "s***hole," while Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue said they heard the President say "s***house" instead, according to the Washington Post. Mr Durbin called the comments "hate filled, vile and racist".
Ms Sanders responded to allegations of racism on Tuesday by attempting to paint Mr Trump's critics as hypocritical.
"Why did NBC give him a show for a decade on TV, why did Chuck Schumer and all of his colleagues come and beg Donald Trump for money?" Mr Sanders said, referring to Mr Trump's career as a businessman and host of The Apprentice before he ran for office.
"Why did they want to be with him for years and years for various activities?" she asked. "...I think it’s just an outrageous and ludicrous excuse."
Mr Trump's alleged comments sparked a diplomatic backlash across the globe. Former Haitian President Laurent Lamothe called the remarks "totally unacceptable," and said they showed "a lack [of] respect and ignorance never seen before in the recent history of the US by any President".
South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, Botswana and Haiti all called on US diplomats to meet with government officials to address Mr Trump's comments. Botswana has called on the US to clarify whether it, too, is considered a "s***hole" country.
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