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Trump denies making crude comment: ‘I am not a racist’

President Donald Trump, right, speaks beside House Majority

President Donald Trump, right, speaks beside House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach on Jan. 14, 2018. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Nicholas Kamm

President Donald Trump on Sunday declared as “probably dead” an Obama-era program offering protected immigration status to immigrants who entered the country as children, and hours later denied making a crude comment in a meeting last week with lawmakers about immigration reform, saying “I am not a racist.”

His characterization of the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program came even after his administration had announced it would adhere to a federal court order temporarily reinstating the program.

In a Sunday morning burst of Twitter postings, Trump blamed Democrats for a breakdown in bipartisan talks to preserve DACA. Negotiations came to a halt after Thursday’s disclosure that Trump described Haiti and African nations as “shithole” countries during a White House meeting on immigration reform.

Sunday afternoon, speaking at his Florida golf club, Trump denied making the comment, telling reporters: “No. I’m not a racist. I’m the least racist person you will ever interview.”

Republicans making the Sunday talk show rounds appeared to be more optimistic about reaching a bipartisan deal to restore the program known as DACA.

On Saturday night, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services posted a notice on its website that it would resume processing renewal applications for nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants — known as “dreamers” — enrolled in DACA. The notice came days after a federal court judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked the Trump administration from rolling back the program initially established under an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2012.

The court ruled amid bipartisan negotiations to preserve the initiative protecting from deportation young immigrants brought to the country illegally as minors. Democrats have made DACA restoration part of a new budget deal. Trump, who last September announced he was phasing out the program, has insisted that any deal to preserve DACA should include funding for a border wall, a move opposed by Democrats.

“DACA is probably dead because the Democrats don’t really want it, they just want to talk and take desperately needed money away from our Military,” Trump tweeted shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday.

The president, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, reiterated his position that any new immigration deal should get rid of lottery-based visas to focus on merit-based entry into the country.

“I, as President, want people coming into our Country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on MERIT. No more Lotteries! #AMERICA FIRST,” he tweeted.

Trump’s position on a diversity-based lottery — a system that reserves visas for people from countries that have relatively few immigrants in the United States and generally favors African nations — was a flashpoint at Thursday’s explosive closed-door White House meeting. Trump, according to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), described Haiti and African nations as “shithole” countries, and questioned why more visas couldn’t be doled out to applicants from countries such as Norway.

Despite the dispute over what was said at Thursday’s closed door session, and Trump’s tweets predicting a grim fate for a DACA deal, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said on ABC’s “This Week,” he believed there is a bipartisan “deal to be had.”

“One thing I do take big issue with the president on is he is saying that the Democrats aren’t moving forward in good faith,” Flake said. “I can tell you I’ve been negotiating and working with the Democrats on immigration for 17 years and on this issue, on DACA or on the Dream Act for a number of years, and the Democrats are negotiating in good faith.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, speaking on Fox News Sunday, also signaled that a compromise could still be reached.

“It’s not a DACA deal, it’s a security immigration deal,” Nielsen said.

But, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” questioned whether “meaningful” discussions could occur amid the debate over Thursday’s meeting.

“I do want to see an immigration compromise, and you can’t have an immigration compromise if everybody out there is calling the president a racist,” Paul said.

Sen. David Perdue on Sunday denied claims that Trump used the derogatory remark to describe foreign nations in a closed-door, bipartisan meeting last week, while two other Trump allies said they didn’t hear or recall hearing those remarks.

Perdue and Cotton had issued a joint statement Friday saying they did not recall Trump use the phrase.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, also in the meeting, said on “Fox News Sunday,” “I don’t recall him saying that exact phrase.”

Those accounts differ from versions offered by Durbin and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who also attended the meeting. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told a South Carolina newspaper that he spoke with Graham, who described the comments as “basically accurate.”

Ben Marter, a Durbin spokesman, tweeted Sunday: “Credibility is something that’s built by being consistently honest over time. Senator Durbin has it. Senator Perdue does not. Ask anyone who’s dealt with both.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, appearing on “Fox News Sunday” after Nielsen, said, “it’s disturbing to see so many people with such short-term memory losses and the inability to recall a conversation, important conversation that has taken place just a few days ago.”

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