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House Speaker Paul Ryan, the highest ranking Republican in government, disavowed comments by Donald Trump that a judge overseeing a case against the now-defunct Trump University cannot be fair to him because of his Mexican heritage.
“Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan said at an event where he unveiled the GOP agenda to fight poverty in America. “I think that should be absolutely disavowed it’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Ryan stood by his endorsement of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, which came last week.
“But do I believe that Hillary Clinton is the answer? No I do not,” Ryan added. “I believe that we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him than we do with her.”
In interviews over the weekend, Trump doubled down on his claim that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana, should not preside over the Trump University fraud case because of his Mexican heritage. Trump also said he thought it was “absolutely” possible that a Muslim judge also would treat him unfairly. On Friday, Trump referred to a supporter in the crowd at a rally in Redding, Calif., as “my African American,” sparking criticism.
Trump now shows no signs of backing off. A senior campaign source confirms to NPR that Trump urged surrogates on a conference call on Monday to keep responding to questions about the controversy, reversing a memo that a campaign staffer had sent to many of them earlier directing those speaking for the campaign to avoid discussing the lawsuit.
The purpose of Trump’s call was to give surrogates the “confidence to keep standing up,” according to the campaign source, who added that Trump believes “if we don’t respond we can’t win.”
Among those on the 50-minute call were former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Trump backer Jeffrey Lord, who frequently speaks in support of the candidate on CNN.
Trump also urged his supporters to go after reporters they feel are unfair.
Ryan’s comments on Tuesday were part of a growing chorus of Republican leaders – including many who’ve endorsed Trump – in admonishing his racially-charged remarks about Curiel.
GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee urged Trump to change course multiple times in an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday. “He has, no doubt, missed an incredible opportunity. He still has time to pivot,” Corker said. “Time is running short, but he has time to do that.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is among several former rivals who pledged months ago to support the party’s nominee. Rubio told a local news station in Florida that he saw that promise as a “binding agreement,” but said he couldn’t defend Trump’s remarks about Judge Curiel.
“I think it’s wrong. He needs to stop saying it,” Rubio said. “I don’t think it reflects well on the Republican Party. I don’t think it reflects well on us as a nation. There shouldn’t be any sort of ethnicity or religious or racial test for what kinds of judges should hear what kinds of cases. If you take that argument and you expand, it you can make that argument about anybody in some circumstance or another. It’s wrong and I hope he stops.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told the New York Times that Trump’s comments represent an “off-ramp” for leery Trump supporters and compared his rhetoric to that of Sen. Joe McCarthy. “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary,” Graham added.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told NBC that it’s “obviously inappropriate to attack a judge’s race or ethnicity.” On Twitter, Ohio Gov. John Kasich called Trump’s comments “wrong” and said he should “apologize” to Curiel.
On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to say whether or not the comments were racist in an appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press, but said he “couldn’t disagree more.”
“This is one of the worst mistakes Trump has made. I think it’s inexcusable,” Gingrich said. “This judge was born in Indiana. He is an American — period. When you come to America, you get to become an American. And Trump, who has grandparents who came to the U.S., should understand this as much as anybody.”
No surprise, critiques are also coming from Republicans who’ve so far held off on endorsing the presumptive nominee or, like Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, vowed never to do so. Sasse tweeted this critique: “Public Service Announcement: Saying someone can’t do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of ‘racism.‘”
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has not yet publicly endorsed Trump. She released a statement calling his remarks about Curiel, “absolutely unacceptable,” and saying they show a “lack of respect for the judicial system and the principle of separation of powers.”
Many in the GOP establishment talked of Trump becoming more presidential as he turned away from the primary, but the past week has made that look less likely. Trump is taking comfort in polls showing him in a close race with Hillary Clinton, and unless that changes he may not change course any time soon.
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