SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Mia Love demanded that President Donald Trump apologize Thursday for the vulgar term he used to describe her parents' home country of Haiti and other nations during a discussion on immigration.
"The president’s comments are unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation’s values. This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation," she said.
Love, a Republican representing Utah's 4th District, said her parents proudly took the oath of allegiance to the United States and took on all the responsibilities that come with being citizens when they immigrated from Haiti.
"They never took a thing from our federal government. They worked hard, paid taxes and rose from nothing to take care of and provide opportunities for their children. They taught their children to do the same. That’s the American dream," she said.
"I know, because I'm living it," Love told reporters at Salt Lake City International Airport Thursday evening after touching down in Utah.
The Washington Post reported that Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they floated restoring protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to two people briefed on the meeting.
“What do we want Haitians here for?” the president asked, according to the people briefed. “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? Why do we want all these people from s---hole countries?"
Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met Wednesday.
Love said she's seeking to sit down and talk with the president about immigration reform.
"I doubt that a comment like that would have been made if somebody like me was sitting across the table from him," Love said. She said the president's remark was "obviously disheartening" but presented an opportunity "to rise above it and say, 'I'm going to be an example of kindness, of compassion.'"
Love said her office asked White House staff members if the reports were valid, but did not receive a response.
"At first you think, is it true? What's going on?" she said.
Love said she does not believe the comment will set back negotiations in Congress on a federal program allowing children whose parents entered the country without legal permission to avoid deportation.
Earlier Thursday, Love said in a statement: "The president must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned."
White House spokesman Raj Shad defended the president but did not directly deny his remarks.
"Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people," Shad said.
The sources said the president made the remark in a meeting as Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was explaining the outlines of an agreement that six senators had reached to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation and bolster border security, according to the Associated Press.
Durbin explained that as part of that deal, a lottery for visas that has benefited people from African and other diverse nations would be ended. In exchange, Durbin said people would be allowed to stay in the U.S. who fled here after disasters hit their homes in places including El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti.
Utah’s Rep. Mia Love, a Haitian-American, responds to reports that President Donald Trump referred to Haiti and other nations as “s—-hole countries.” She says “it’s obviously disheartening,” and that she’s asked to sit down and speak with Trump on immigration reform. pic.twitter.com/q7162atVq9— Annie Knox (@anniebknox) January 12, 2018
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a close Trump ally, called on the president to explain his words.
"I look forward to getting a more detailed explanation regarding the president’s comments. Part of what makes America so special is that we welcome the best and brightest in the world, regardless of their country of origin," Hatch said in a tweet from his office.
Utah House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said Trump's comments show he is a racist.
"Not everyone who supports Trump is a racist. But he attracts a disproportionate share of racists to support him. The reason is simple: Donald Trump is a racist," he said in a tweet.
King called Trump a "poisonous influence" on the country, the rule of law, common decency and fundamental moral values.
"When we see fundamental indecency and immorality, especially in high places, we need to stand up and SAY SOMETHING," he tweeted.
Utah's Lt. Gov Spencer Cox said one of his sons, who is serving an LDS mission in Mozambique, meets new families there every day that love him and care for him.
"They work hard and want the best for their kids. Turns out they're just like us," Cox said in a Tweet that included pictures of his son with a smiling family.
Independent president candidate and BYU graduate Evan McMullin harshly criticized Trump on Twitter.
"The president’s measure of human beings, immigrants or otherwise, is un-American. I’ll take a downtrodden Haitian, Salvadoran or African who hungers for and will defend freedom and opportunity in America over a privileged bigot who’d sell our liberty to the highest bidder any day," he said.
The George W. Bush Presidential Center also chimed in on Twitter, saying "El Salvador was among the first to join our coalition in Iraq, sending thousands of soldiers to fight and die alongside Americans."
Contributing: Annie Knox