President Donald Trump on Friday ignored questions from the press about his use of the term “s—hole countries” to describe African nations and Haiti, as he signed a proclamation in honor of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Trump began the event by carefully reading a set of scripted remarks. “Today we celebrate Dr. King for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear: That no matter what the color of our skin, or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God,” said the president.
Trump’s remarks were followed by a few words from Dr. Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development, and Isaac Newton Farris Jr., King’s nephew.
Near the end of the somber affair, Trump got up from the signing table and began to leave. That’s when the questions started.
“Mr. President, will you give an apology for the statement yesterday?” asked one reporter.
“Mr. President, did you refer to African nations, did you use the word ‘s—hole’?” asked another.
Then the voice of White House correspondent April Ryan rang out. “Mr. President, are you a racist?”
Ryan, a veteran journalist who is black, had a notable interaction with Trump in February of last year, when the president asked Ryan during a press conference if she would set up a meeting for him with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
On Friday, however, Trump ignored Ryan and the rest of the press pool as he made his way around the edge of the Oval Office, shaking hands with guests. The event was Trump’s only public appearance of the day, making it the only chance journalists had to ask him questions.
While the televised event appeared calm, off-camera both the White House and Capitol Hill were reeling over the fallout from Trump’s comments, which were confirmed by a half-dozen major news organizations.
For much of the day, members of Congress, diplomats and world leaders had been demanding that Trump apologize for insulting Africa, a continent of 1.2 billion
people, and Haiti, a nation with deep social and economic ties to the United States.
Haiti’s former prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, wrote on Twitter that the world was “witnessing a new low today.”