White House counselor Kellyanne Conway held a meeting with African diplomats on Tuesday, hoping to do damage control in the wake of President Trump’s derogatory “shithole” comments earlier this month. That plan seems to have backfired: according to Foreign Policy, Conway made little to no mention of Africa itself during the meeting, opting to discuss the president’s State of the Union speech instead.
The meeting was originally intended to patch the relationship between the White House and several African nations, which Trump had referred to as “shithole countries” during a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers on January 11.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” he said at the time, referring to immigrants from Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador. Several lawmakers subsequently confirmed the president’s comments to reporters, although the White House disputed the story later.
On Tuesday this week, the White House, attempting to mend fences, dropped the ball again.
According to Foreign Policy’s report, throughout the meeting, Conway — who has stayed away from any major diplomatic initiatives thus far — spoke mostly of Trump’s speech and his “achievements” from the past year. She shied away from any real policy talk and hardly mentioned Africa at all, sources said.
One ambassador who spoke to the outlet on the condition of anonymity was shocked that someone from the president’s team had “actually met” with them at all. They added, however, that the meeting was otherwise positive.
In the aftermath of the January 11 meeting, African leaders issued a swath of statements condemning Trump’s “shithole” comments. Macky Sall, president of Senegal, tweeted that he was “shocked by the words of President Trump on Haiti and Africa” and that he “reject[ed] them and condemn[ed] them vigorously.”
“Africa and the black race deserves the respect and consideration of all,” he wrote.
The African Union, a group of African ambassadors to the United Nations, also issued a statement expressing “disappointment and outrage” in Trump’s words.
“The African Union Mission wishes to express its infuriation, disappointment and outrage over the unfortunate comment made by Mr. Donald Trump…which remarks dishonor the celebrated American creed and respect for diversity and human dignity,” they wrote. “[We demand] a retraction of the comment as well as an apology, not only to the Africans, but to all people of African descent around the globe.”
Despite initially denying reports about the comments and tweeting that he had simply used “tough” language during the meeting, Trump later attempted to make amends, issuing a letter to the African Union on January 25 and later obtained by Foreign Policy, in which he praised its partnerships with the United States.
“The United States profoundly respects the partnerships and values we share with the African Union, member states, and citizens across the continent,” he wrote. “I want to underscore that the United States deeply respects the people of Africa, and my commitment to strong and respectful relationships with African states as sovereign nations is firm. …In the coming year, I look forward to building on [those] relationships…[and] welcoming many of you to the White House.”
The Trump administration has found itself in hot water over a number of diplomatic gaffes in recent months. In addition to Conway’s bungled meeting on Tuesday, the White House has faced strong criticism from several Middle Eastern nations upset with Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy there. Palestinian leaders had warned the administration that such a move would effectively kill any future peace talks between itself and Israel.
“Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world,” King Abdullah II, of neighboring Jordan, said in a statement in early December, shortly after the move was announced. “The adoption of this resolution will have serious implications for security and stability in the Middle East, and will undermine the efforts of the American administration to resume the peace process and fuel the feelings of Muslims and Christians.”