First House Republican Backs Clinton Amid Growing Trump Tension

It’s not yet clear whether New York Representative Richard Hanna’s move is an outlier or a sign of things to come.

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New York Representative Richard Hanna on Tuesday became the first Republican member of Congress to back Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, citing his discomfort with GOP standard-bearer Donald Trump.

“He is unfit to serve our party and cannot lead this country,” Hanna said about Trump in an op-ed for Syracuse.com.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton campaigns on July 30, 2016, in Youngstown, Pennsylvania.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton campaigns on July 30, 2016, in Youngstown, Pennsylvania.
Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Hanna’s move came after a day of growing tension between Trump and top House Republican Paul Ryan, who told donors that a candidate “can’t just run a vague platitude election, hopefully win a personality contest, and then try to bring in transformational, once-in-a-generation reform to an unsuspecting country.”

Ryan, who withheld his endorsement of Trump for several weeks after the real-estate developer and TV personality clinched the nomination this spring, refrained from saying Trump’s name during his remarks.

Trump took a swipe at Ryan in return, thanking the speaker’s Aug. 9 primary opponent for his “kind words,” apparently in defense of Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslim immigration to the U.S.

It wasn’t clear whether Hanna’s move was a sign of more defections to come, or an outlier. The upstate moderate is retiring at the end of his term, easing the political cost of crossing Trump.

Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, one of several Republican House members who have said they will not vote for Trump, said he won't be voting for Clinton either.

“I don't see other members moving in that direction,” said Dent. “I don't believe that many Republicans will take their marching orders from President Obama on Donald Trump or any other matter.”

Hanna said Trump’s attacks this week on the Muslim parents of a slain U.S. soldier, who spoke about their son and blasted Trump at last week’s Democratic National Convention, was Trump’s “latest foray of insults.”

“While I disagree with her on many issues, I will vote for Mrs. Clinton.” Hanna said. “I will be hopeful and resolute in my belief that being a good American who loves his country is far more important than parties or winning and losing.”

Trump’s derision of the Muslim parents—whose son he has called a hero—also drew a rebuke from Senator John McCain of Arizona and other lawmakers, but the 2008 Republican presidential nominee stopped short of withdrawing his support for Trump. 

Trump last summer said former Vietnam prisoner of war McCain wasn’t a hero, before going on to win his party’s nomination.

President Barack Obama told reporters Tuesday that many Republicans’ denunciations, when paired with continued support, “ring hollow.”

“If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, then why are you still endorsing him?” said Obama, who often prefers to criticize Trump indirectly, at a press conference in Washington. “This is daily and weekly where they are distancing themselves from statements he's made. There has to be a point where you say, ‘This is not somebody I can support for president of the United States even though he is a member of my party.’”

Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, has sought to stop the political bleeding. As a former House Republican, Pence is one of the billionaire’s strongest links to Capitol Hill. Reassuring and rallying Republican lawmakers there could help Trump shore up his standing against Clinton.

“Donald Trump and I believe that Captain Humayun Khan is an American hero and his family, like all Gold Star families, should be cherished by every American,” Pence said in a statement Sunday.

In another defection Monday, top Jeb Bush adviser Sally Bradshaw said she was leaving the GOP to become an independent. “I can't look my children in the eye and tell them I voted for Donald Trump,” Bradshaw told CNN in an e-mail.

—With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs, Angela Greiling Keane, and Billy House.

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