President Donald Trump questioned why the US should permit more immigrants from "shithole countries" after senators discussed revamping rules affecting entrants from Africa and Haiti, sources said.
Trump made the remark in the Oval Office as two politicians described details to him of a bipartisan compromise among six senators that would extend protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants and strengthen border protections.
The senators had hoped Trump would back their accord, ending a months-long, bitter dispute over protecting "Dreamers".
But the White House later rejected their proposed agreement, plunging the issue back into uncertainty just eight days before a deadline that threatens a government shutdown.
During their conversation, Dick Durbin, of Illinois, the chamber's No 2 Senate Democratic leader, was explaining that as part of that deal, a lottery for visas that has benefited people from Africa and other nations would be ended, the sources said, though there could be some other way for them to apply.
Durbin said people who had fled to the US after disasters hit their homes, in places including El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti, would be allowed to stay in the country.
Trump specifically questioned why the US would want to admit more people from Haiti. He also mentioned Africa and asked why more people from "shithole countries" should be allowed into the US, according to three people briefed on the conversation.
The president suggested that instead, the US should allow more entrants from countries like Norway. Trump met this week with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Asked about the remarks, White House spokesman Raj Shah did not deny them.
"Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people," he said.
Trump's remarks were remarkable even by the standards of a president who has been accused by his foes of racist attitudes and has routinely smashed through public decorum that his modern predecessors have generally embraced.
The Trump administration announced late last year that it would end a temporary residency permit program that allowed nearly 60,000 citizens from Haiti to live and work in the United States following a devastating 2010 earthquake.
Trump has spoken positively about Haitians in public. During a 2016 campaign event in Miami, he said "the Haitian people deserve better" and told the audience of Haitian-Americans he wanted to "be your greatest champion, and I will be your champion".