Trump Defends Remarks About Judge After Ryan Calls Them Racist

  • House speaker cites ‘textbook definition of a racist comment’
  • Trump says his statements on judge’s ethnicity ‘misconstrued’

Trump Says Comments on Judge’s Ethnicity 'Misconstrued'

Donald Trump said his statements about a federal judge’s ethnicity have been “misconstrued,” hours after House Speaker Paul Ryan rebuked him for the "completely unacceptable" remarks without withdrawing his support for the Republican presidential nominee. 

“I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent,” Trump said in a statement Tuesday on his website. “But based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial."

Trump claims that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University, is biased against him because the judge is of Mexican descent. His comments, just weeks after he secured the Republican nomination, have put fellow Republicans who endorsed him in an uncomfortable position.

“I do absolutely disavow those comments. They are wrong," Ryan said at a news conference in Washington earlier Tuesday where Republican leaders were unveiling part of their policy agenda. "Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment."

But Ryan quickly added that Trump would give Republicans a better chance of getting their legislative agenda enacted than would his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

"I see it as my job as speaker of the House to keep our party unified," Ryan said, adding that he has had discussions with Trump about the tone of his campaign.

One Republican senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, withdrew his endorsement of Trump, saying that his statements about the judge show he lacks "the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world." Kirk is running far behind in his re-election campaign against his Democratic challenger, Representative Tammy Duckworth.

‘A Hater’

The speaker endorsed Trump on June 2 after spending several weeks evaluating the candidate as other Republicans climbed on board. Ryan’s support came after Trump told supporters in San Diego on May 27 that Curiel is "a hater." He said the Indiana-born judge "happens to be, we believe, Mexican.”

Trump escalated his attack in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published June 2, in which he said that Curiel’s Mexican heritage created an "inherent conflict of interest" in the lawsuit. Days later, he said on CBS’s "Face the Nation" that a judge who is Muslim also could be biased against him because of Trump’s proposal to temporarily block Muslims from entering the U.S.

Trump’s remarks have triggered an avalanche of criticism from elected Republicans, but the candidate angrily defended his tactics in a private phone call with supporters on Monday, where he ordered them to question the judge’s credibility. A day later, Trump supporter and CNN contributor Jeffrey Lord said on that network that Ryan and other members of the Republican establishment are “playing the race card” in their criticisms of Trump.

‘Unfair’ Rulings

In his statement Tuesday, Trump said, "Due to what I believe are unfair and mistaken rulings in this case and the judge’s reported associations with certain professional organizations, questions were raised regarding the Obama-appointed judge’s impartiality. It is a fair question.”

Curiel is affiliated with La Raza Lawyers of California, a Latino bar association.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was time for Trump to start talking about the issues. 

"It’s time to quit attacking various people you competed with or various minority groups in the country and get on message," he told reporters at the Capitol, adding that the race is "eminently winnable."

"We’re all anxious to hear what he’ll say next," McConnell said.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida predicted Monday night that Republicans would be facing more of these dilemmas with Trump as the nominee. Rubio, who lost to Trump in the Republican primaries, has said he is backing the billionaire.

‘Difficult Choice’

"I repeatedly said that this is the difficult choice we would face if he were our nominee," Rubio said. "This is a tough decision for a lot of Republicans to make."

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential choice for Trump, said he hopes the nominee quickly changes the way he is running his campaign. He added that Trump has an opportunity to be a disruptive force in Washington that would get the country to deal with problems like the national debt.

"I just hope that somehow he will change the way they are going about this campaign. This is a great inflection point, the primary ends this week, it’s a great opportunity for them to reset and focus in a very different way," Corker said. "I mean, he has this tremendous opportunity sitting in front of him."

One Republican senator who hasn’t endorsed his party’s presumptive nominee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, said Tuesday, "As of now, unless he changes significantly, I can’t see myself voting for Donald Trump."

‘Tone It Down’

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah told reporters, “My experience with Donald Trump is he doesn’t have a prejudicial bone in his body that’s why he’s so open about everything.” He also said, though, that it was “important” for Trump to “tone it down a wee bit."

In endorsing Trump, Ryan said last week that the candidate would be a "willing partner" in advancing House Republicans’ policies.

Even so, the two disagree on major policy issues including trade, immigration and federal spending. Trump’s campaign harnessed anti-establishment anger among Republican voters by decrying free-trade deals and rampant immigration, while signaling he may be open to spending more money on infrastructure. He’s shown no sign of embracing Ryan’s calls for free trade, an immigration overhaul, and limited government with steep spending cuts.

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