Speaker Calls Trump's Judge Remarks 'Textbook Definition of a Racist Comment'

Ryan makes no excuses for likely GOP nominee's 'indefensible' comments

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Donald Trump should have apologized for his remarks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel instead of doubling down on them. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Paul D. Ryan may have endorsed Donald Trump  for president but when it comes to some of the remarks the presumptive GOP nominee has made, the speaker refuses to make excuses for him.   

"I’m not going to defend these kinds of comments because they’re indefensible," the Wisconsin Republican said Tuesday.   

[ Ryan Takes Shot at Trump Day After Endorsement ]  

Case in point: Trump's comments that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrant parents, can't serve impartially in the Trump University case because of his Mexican heritage. Trump said Curiel is biased against him because of the real estate mogul's proposal to build a wall along the Southern border.   

"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. "I think that should absolutely be disavowed. It’s absolutely unacceptable."  

[ Texas Congressman Tells Trump To Shove It ]  

Ryan clarified that he wasn't calling Trump a racist. "I don’t know what is in his heart, but I think the comment itself is defined that way," he said.   

Ryan suggested that Trump should have apologized for the remarks instead of doubling down on them.   

"The way I look at this is if you say something that’s wrong, I think the mature and responsible thing is to acknowledge it’s wrong," he said.  

[ Grassley: Senate Can Be a Check on Trump's Judges ]  

Asked if he regrets endorsing Trump because of his comments about Curiel, Ryan said, "I regret those comments that he made."  

The speaker defended his support of of the billionaire businessman by saying that he has more common ground on policy with Trump than with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton . His comments came at a press conference to unveil a poverty policy paper, the first piece of House Republicans' "A Better Way" agenda.   

[ Ryan Announces Plan for Rolling Out House Policy Agenda ]     

Ryan acknowledged that Trump's tone does interfere with the House GOP's efforts to focus on policy ideas this election cycle instead of personality politics.   

"I do think these kinds of comments undercut these things, and I’m not even going to pretend to defend them," Ryan said. "I’m going to defend our ideas. I’m going to defend our agenda. What matters to us most is our principles and the policies that come from those principles and our ability to give the people of this country a better way forward."  

[ GOP Senators Criticize Trump's Comments on Judge ]  

Ryan is not the first Republican to criticize Trump for his remarks about Curiel, but most have not gone as far as to describe them as racist. One Republican who did is Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, who tweeted on Monday that "saying someone can't do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of 'racism.'"

Democrats are also appalled by Trump's remarks and in some cases feel they need to make amends with foreign leaders who may have taken offense.   

Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin told reporters Tuesday that he would use a meeting with the Mexican foreign minister on Wednesday to do damage control over Trump's recent remarks about Curiel.  

"It’s just outrageous. … To infer that there is a bias on his part is unacceptable," the Maryland Democrat said.   

[ Reid: McConnell 'Poster Boy' for GOP 'Spinelessness' Over Trump ]  

Cardin said foreign leaders generally have expressed "major concern" about Trump, especially "after they've had a few drinks" in a social setting.  

"I think there is bewilderment about how Donald Trump could become the candidate of a major political party in the United States," he said.  

Rachel Oswald contributed to this report .  

Contact McPherson at lindseymcpherson@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @lindsemcpherson .  

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