An alleged description of African and other countries as "shitholes" by Donald Trump prompted outrage on Friday, even as the US president appeared to deny having used the specific term.
In a tweet, Mr Trump indicated he had not used the vulgar term to describe immigrants from Africa and other regions: "the language used by me . . . was tough, but this was not the language used," he tweeted.
But almost immediately a senator who attended the meeting at which Mr Trump was alleged to have used the description said it was "the exact word used by the president – not just once but repeatedly". Democratic senator Dick Durbin also condemned Mr Trump's language during the meeting as "hate-filled, vile and racist".
Mr Trump's reported comments during a meeting with members of Congress sparked international condemnation. The United Nations human rights body said the comments, if confirmed, were "racist".
"There is no other word one can use but racist," spokesman Rupert Colville said. "You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as 'shitholes', whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome."
Similar sentiments were expressed by African nations, with the African Union saying it was "frankly alarmed" by the comments.
The US ambassador to Panama, John Feeley, resigned his position, apparently in protest at Mr Trump's reported comments.
House speaker Paul Ryan described the comments as "unfortunate" and said he had been immediately reminded of his own Irish heritage. Mr Ryan was one of many commentators and analysts who referred to the treatment of Irish immigrants to America in previous centuries, as criticism of Mr Trump's comments grew throughout the day.
Various media outlets reported that Mr Trump made the comments – specifically that he asked why he would want "all these people from shithole countries", in reference to some African countries and Haiti, instead of taking immigrants from countries such as Norway – during the meeting in the White House on Thursday.
As the controversy continued on Friday, Mr Trump delivered a scheduled speech to mark Martin Luther King day from the Roosevelt Room in the White House.
Surrounded by African-Americans, including the nephew of the civil rights leader and prominent African-American Republican Ben Carson, who delivered a speech, Mr Trump said: "Dr King opened the eyes and lifted the conscience of our nation. No matter the colour of our skin or place of our birth we are all equal."
Mr Trump appeared to ignore shouted questions from the media, with one reporter asking: “Mr President, are you a racist?”
While Mr Trump also insisted on Friday that he had “never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country”.
“I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians,” he said on Twitter, adding that Democrats had made the accusations up.
Nonetheless, Mr Trump vigorously defended his stance on immigration, insisting that he wanted a merit-based system of immigration.
“The so-called bipartisan Daca deal presented yesterday to myself and a group of Republican Senators and Congressmen was a big step backwards,” he said referring to the deferred action on childhood arrivals Bill that aims to give protection to “dreamers”, undocumented immigrants who arrived to the US as children.
“Wall was not properly funded, Chain & Lottery were made worse and USA would be forced to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly. I want a merit based system of immigration and people who will help take our country to the next level. I want safety and security for our people. I want to stop the massive inflow of drugs,” he tweeted.
The Trump administration and legislators on Capitol Hill are trying to thrash out an immigration strategy ahead of a budget deadline later this month. Specifically, legislators are trying to forge a compromise on the Daca programme.
While Mr Trump announced the abolition of the programme for “dreamers” in October, he gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative solution. In exchange for a compromise on the Daca programme, Mr Trump is demanding funding for his Mexican border wall.
He also seemed to suggest his willingness to consider comprehensive immigration reform, something that would be welcomed by Ireland, though he appeared to step back from the comments later in the week.