JERUSALEM — Vice President Mike Pence on Monday defended President Trump over his recent comments disparaging immigration from Africa and Haiti, saying the president’s “heart” is aimed at a merit-based system that is blind to immigrants’ “race or creed.”

In an interview, Pence said the president was intent on implementing a merit-based system that encourages immigration by those who will “contribute to a growing American economy and thriving communities.”

“I know the president’s heart and I know that what President Trump wants to do is reform immigration to make our system one that puts the interests of America first,” Pence said.

The vice president said immigrants should be considered on their merits, “regardless of what country they come from or what their race and creed is.”

Pence was responding to reports that Trump, in a private meeting with legislators this month, challenged immigration from “shithole” African countries, disparaged Haiti and said the U.S. should welcome more immigrants from countries like Norway.

The vice president also dismissed adult film star Stormy Daniels’ account of a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, questioning its validity.

“I’m just not going to comment on the latest baseless allegations against the president,” Pence said.

“My focus is on serving the president, advancing the priorities of the administration, advancing American interests and that’s where it will stay,” he said.