President Trump told reporters late Sunday that "I am not a racist” and denied reports that he referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.”
Trump made the denial as he arrived for dinner with House majority leader Kevin McCarthy at his Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Asked if he is a racist, Trump said: "No, I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed."
Trump denied making the “shithole countries” comments during discussions about whether to include immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and African countries in an immigration bill on Thursday.
The president, who was due to discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with McCarthy, also said Democrats were ruining chances for an agreement on immigration legislation and DACA, according to the Washington Post.
“Honestly, I don’t think the Democrats want to make a deal,” he said. “I think they talk about DACA, but they don’t want to help the DACA people.”
Lawmakers are under a March 5 deadline to write legislation to fix the Obama-era DACA program.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois told reporters that Trump “said things that were hate-filled, vile and racist" at a meeting at the White House on Thursday. Durbin was the only Democrat at the meeting.
“I cannot believe that in the history of the White House, in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday," Durbin said.
Two Trump allies who attended the meeting, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, issued a joint statement, saying they did "not recall the president saying those comments specifically.”
Trump said Sunday: "Did you see what various senators in the room said about my comments? They weren't made."
The South African government said in a statement that it planned to call on the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires — the United States’ second most senior diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in the capital Pretoria — on Monday over Trump's alleged vulgar comments.
"The Department will provide an opportunity to the Chargé d’Affaires to explain the statement that African countries, alongside Haiti and El Savador, constitute 'shitholes' from where migrants into the United States are undesirable," the Department of International Relations and Cooperation said in a statement.
The U.S. Embassy confirmed it received the request.
“We agree to the importance of strong relations between South Africa and the United States that are based on mutual respect and understanding,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Cindy Harvey said in a statement, the Associated Press reported.
Trump's first wife, Ivana Trump, told Good Morning Britain that the president was not racist.
"I don't think Donald is racist at all," she said in an interview Monday. "Sometimes he says things which are silly and he does not really mean them, but he definitely is not racist. He has so many people telling him left and right what to say, what not to say, and maybe it gets confusing."
Ivana Trump, who was married to the president from 1977 to 1992, also said she thought their daughter Ivanka Trump could become America's first female president.
She said her ex-husband would not do anything "irresponsible" as U.S. leader.
"He's a stable genius. Definitely," she said.
Contributing: Gregory Korte, Fredreka Schouten