WHITE HOUSE —
President Donald Trump is continuing to push back against lawmakers and others who have taken issue with a vulgar comment he is said to have made last week during a meeting with senators on immigration reform.
The White House-congressional talks about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are linked to urgent meetings this week about funding government operations beyond Friday midnight, when current spending authorization expires.
During last Thursday's Oval Office meeting, Trump was reported to have referred to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa as coming from "s---hole countries."
The reporter for The Washington Post, Josh Dawsey, who first wrote about Trump's use of the vulgarity, told CNN on Monday that White House officials now say Trump might have uttered a slightly different profanity, questioning why the United States was accepting immigrants from "s---house countries."
Durbin, who was at the Oval Office meeting, said on Monday, "I don't know that changing the word from 'hole' to 'house' changes the impact which this has."
The Democrat from the state of Illinois said Trump's comment was "a message to the world, and a message which I think is inconsistent with the values of this country. I don't believe the majority of Americans agree with the president, whichever word is used."
Prior to the president's departure from Florida on Monday, a group of people from the state's Haitian community, many waving Haitian flags, demonstrated on the roadside near the entrance of the president's hotel.
The Palm Beach Post newspaper reported about 400 demonstrators were present, but reporters traveling in Trump's motorcade estimated the number at about 100.
The reporters also spotted a smaller group of about a dozen Trump supporters, with one holding a sign reading "Honk for Trump."
The president on Sunday denied he is a racist, telling reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in the state of Florida: "I am the least racist person you will ever interview."
Trump added that he is "ready, willing and able" to reach a deal to protect from deportation about 800,000 young immigrants who years ago were brought illegally by their parents to the United States.
But, he said, "Honestly, I don't think the Democrats want to make a deal," and earlier in the day said he thought the program is "probably dead."
According to some in the room during a White House meeting last week on immigration, Trump asked why the U.S. is letting in immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa and said he wanted more from countries such as Norway. He also apparently said he wants to exclude Haiti from an immigration reform deal.
At one point after news surfaced about his remark, Trump tweeted, "Never said anything derogatory about Haiti. Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings - unfortunately no trust."
Trump's denial was supported in separate appearances on Sunday news programs by Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia.
"I didn't hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was," Cotton said on CBS's Face the Nation. Perdue was on ABC television and flatly denied Trump said it.
Trump is tying an extension of DACA, which was championed by his predecessor Barack Obama, to funding for a wall he wants built along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Building a wall to thwart further illegal immigration was a campaign promise Trump made repeatedly during his successful 2016 run to the White House.
Many Democrats want extending DACA to be a separate issue from building a wall — something they oppose anyway.
The president's reportedly harsh comments about Africa and Haiti angered Democrats and were also condemned by a number of Republicans — throwing some doubt on Congress' willingness to make an immigration deal with the White House at this time.
Trump last September signed an executive order ending DACA, but gave Congress until March 5 to weigh in on the issue.
Many DACA recipients only know this country as their home. Often called Dreamers by their advocates, they work, go to school, pay taxes, and have served in the U.S. military.
VOA's Kenneth Schwartz and Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.