Trump has no apologies for earlier disparaging Africa or Muslims as Nigeria’s president visits

President Trump speaks during a news conference with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria in the White House Rose Garden on Monday.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump for the first time hosted a leader from sub-Saharan Africa at the White House on Monday and made no apologies for disparaging countries on the continent with a vulgar term earlier this year.

“We didn’t discuss it. And you do have some countries that are in very bad shape and very tough places to live in,” Trump said at a brief afternoon news conference with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, Africa’s largest country.

“But we didn’t discuss it because the president knows me,” Trump added, “and he knows where I’m coming from.”


Buhari, seeking continued military assistance from the United States, including helicopter sales and better trade relations, made it clear he was equally interested in avoiding the topic.

“I’m very careful with what the press says,” Buhari said, adding that he was not sure of the validity of the allegation. “So the best thing for me is to keep quiet.”

Trump was widely reported to have complained in January, in a closed-door meeting on immigration with members of Congress from both parties, that the United States shouldn’t have to accept many migrants from “shithole countries” in Africa or Haiti and El Salvador. The member nations of the African Union, which includes Nigeria, called on Trump to apologize for the remarks.

The president said at the time that he used “tough” language but not the exact phrase reported. On Monday he did not deny using it, saying only that he and Buhari didn’t discuss the matter.

Their meeting wasn’t Trump’s first with an African leader since the controversy erupted nearly four months ago. Shortly afterward in January, he had a similarly cordial meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the new head of the African Union, at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. At that meeting, Trump ignored shouted questions about his remarks.

On Monday, he seemed to go out of his way to demonstrate his respect for Nigeria. “I would like to visit Nigeria,” he said. “It’s an amazing country.”

In fact, Trump added, he’d heard that “there’s no country more beautiful.”

Buhari seemed especially pleased with Trump touting a $600-million deal signed last year to sell 12 high-tech military aircraft for counter-insurgency efforts. Trump said they would be used “to target terrorists and protect civilians,” and he complained that in the past the United States had blocked helicopter sales to Nigeria “for various reasons which, frankly, were not good reasons.”

The Obama administration for several years held up the deal over Nigeria’s human rights record and concerns that the aircraft would be used to harm civilians. However, President Obama had been prepared to approve the deal before he left office.

Trump’s continued refusal to apologize for his past comment about African nations was not the only illustration at the news conference of his general resistance to apologizing or admitting mistakes.

A reporter told him that lawyers had argued in the Supreme Court last week that if Trump would apologize for his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant language as a presidential candidate, the case against his proposed travel ban would go away. In lower courts, opponents have successfully used Trump’s campaign call for a total ban on Muslims entering the country to contest the administration’s order, though it was limited to a select group of countries.

“There’s no reason to apologize,” Trump said. “Our immigration laws in this country are a total disaster.”

“So I think if I apologize,” he added, “it wouldn’t make 10 cents worth of difference to them.”

Trump said he was closely monitoring a caravan of asylum-seekers from Central America who have made their way through Mexico to reach the border. It is an issue he has raised before, to justify calling for National Guard troops there. During a political rally on Saturday in Michigan, he accused the migrants fleeing violence and poverty of exploiting U.S. law in an attempt to win asylum and ultimately vote for Democrats. However, people who win asylum are not citizens and therefore cannot vote.

Trump declined to answer a question about how many of the refugees he believed might deserve asylum.

Trump remained upbeat in discussing prospects for a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea as he prepares for a possible summit as soon as this month with its dictator, Kim Jong Un.

Trump said a number of sites have been discussed for the talks, but he sounded most excited about the possibility of holding the summit in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Earlier, in a morning tweet, the president essentially crowd-sourced the decision on a venue to his millions of Twitter followers.

Of the DMZ, Trump said, “There’s something that I like about it because you’re there,” Trump said. “You’re actually there, where — if things work out — there’s a great celebration to be had.”

“The good news — everybody wants us,” Trump said. “It has the chance to be a big event.”

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Twitter: @noahbierman