White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said claims that President Donald Trump is racist are "outrageous," citing his success as a public figure and his star turn on television as a host on NBC's reality show "The Apprentice."
"Frankly, if the critics of the president were who he said he was, why did NBC give him a show for a decade on TV?" Sanders told reporters Tuesday.
Trump has been under fire after denigrating immigrants from Africa and Haiti in a meeting with lawmakers last week. The president defended himself on Sunday, telling reporters as he entered his West Palm Beach golf club that he was "the least racist person you have ever interviewed."
Sanders was responding to Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, who said Monday on CBS's "Late Show" that Trump could prove he was not a racist by signing legislation protecting from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as minors. Democrats and Republicans have been in negotiations over what to do about a temporary Obama administration policy — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — since Trump moved to end the protections last year.
Immigration is a central point of disagreement in negotiations over a spending deal for the rest of the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. Democrats want to use the next attempt to keep government operations funded as a vehicle for restoring DACA protections, among other issues. Trump and Republicans have said that any deal on DACA needs to include funding for border security, namely a wall along the southern border with Mexico.
Negotiations were thrown into disarray last week, when Trump was widely reported to have described places like Haiti and African nations as "s***hole" countries in a Jan. 11 White House meeting with lawmakers to discuss the legislation.
The remarks prompted criticism from around the world, including in Haiti and Africa. The African Union said it was "frankly alarmed" by the comments, according to the Associated Press. An opposition lawmaker in Ghana called upon developing nations to boycott the U.S. until Trump leaves office. The United Nations human rights office in Geneva called the remarks "shocking, shameful," Agence France Presse reported in a tweet.
The language was also condemned by lawmakers in the U.S. — mostly Democrats but also a few Republicans.
Trump said he used "tough" language but not the exact words reported in the press. Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, who were at the meeting, said on Sunday the reports mischaracterized Trump's comments. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who participated in the meeting, told senators at a hearing on Tuesday that "I did not hear that word used. The president used tough language in general."
Their defense of Trump came after Senator Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat who was also at the meeting, said on Friday that Trump's denial of the comments was "not true." Durbin also said that his hopes of getting a bipartisan agreement approved by the White House "died yesterday," referring to the Jan. 11 meeting.
Sanders, in her defense of Trump on Tuesday, noted that some of the Democrats, such as Schumer, who are calling Trump's remarks racist accepted his support in the past.
"If they are who they want to try to portray him as, why did they want to be with him for years and years in various activities whether it was events, fundraisers and other things?" Sanders said. "It's just an outrageous and ludicrous excuse."
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