House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) summoned reporters to a Southeast Washington neighborhood on Tuesday to unveil GOP proposals for combating poverty, but the conversation quickly shifted to Donald Trump and the presumptive presidential nominee’s stepped-up attacks on a federal judge’s ethnicity.
Just last week, shortly after Ryan had belatedly joined other prominent GOP leaders in endorsing Trump for president, the Speaker had to publicly rebuke the billionaire businessman for attacking a federal judge for being biased against Trump because of the judge’s Mexican heritage.
Today, as Trump seeks to rally supporters behind his call for removing U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel from the case because he is a Trump “hater” and disagrees with Trump’s plans to build a wall along the southern border, Ryan strongly protested again:
Trump’s attack against the judge is “the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan told reporters, even while insisting that he would continue to support the hot-headed businessman.
“I do absolutely disavow those comments,” he said. “I think they’re wrong. I don’t think they’re right-headed. And the thinking behind it is something that I don’t personally relate to.”
“But at the end of the day, this is about ideas, this is about moving our agenda forward, and that’s why we’re moving the way we’re moving,” said Ryan, who is overseeing the development of a comprehensive House GOP policy agenda to coincide with the presidential campaign, including the anti-poverty ideas unveiled today.
Ryan said that as troubling as some of the comments have been, Trump would be a better choice than the Democratic alternative. “Do I think Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not.”
Ryan endorsed Trump last week about 24 hours before the businessman sharpened his attacks on Curiel, accusing the Indiana-born judge of ruling unfairly in a civil case against Trump University that alleged the defrauding of thousands of students. Trump insisted that the judge repeatedly ruled against him because he is “Mexican” and because Trump is proposing tough immigration policies along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I’m building a wall,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal last week. “It’s an inherent conflict of interest.”
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had to respond to other comments Trump had made attacking Susana Martinez, the Republican governor of New Mexico, who Trump says was doing a bad job of running the state. His peevish remarks followed Martinez’s decision to skip one of his campaign events in New Mexico.
“Completely unfortunate and unnecessary,” McConnell described the comments. He called them “a big mistake.” McConnell and other GOP leaders are fearful that Trump almost single-handedly is driving Hispanic voters from their party and possibly costing them control of the Senate.
Today, reporters bombarded McConnell with questions about Trump’s latest statements and antics, including his demands that supporters and aides back him up. He argues that his highly controversial attacks on the judiciary will not hurt him with his supporters.
“I don’t care if the judge is Mexican or not,” Trump told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. “I’m going to do great with the Mexican people because I’ll provide jobs.”
“There are a lot of issues that we ought to be talking about and that our nominee should be talking about,” McConnell said at the Capitol. “And my advice to our nominee would be to start talking about the issues that the American people care about and to start doing it now. In addition to that, it’s time to quit attacking various people that you competed with or various minority groups in the country, and get on message.”
“He has an opportunity to do that,” McConnell added. “This election is eminently winnable. The American people at their core do not want four more years like the last eight [under President Obama]. So I hope that’s what he’ll do. We’re all anxious to hear what he may say next.”