“Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like a textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan told reporters at a Monday press conference in Washington, D.C. “I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It is absolutely unacceptable.”
The Wisconsin congressman also admitted that Trump’s comments are damaging his conservative reform agenda.
“I do think they undercut our agenda,” he said. “I’m not going to defend these kinds of comments, because they’re indefensible.”
Yet Ryan, who endorsed the presumptive Republican nominee last week, said Trump is nonetheless more likely to help him advance his legislative agenda than Hillary Clinton.
“Do I believe Hillary Clinton is going to be the answer to solving these problems? I do not,” Ryan said. “At the end of the day, this is about ideas. This is about moving our agenda forward.”
He added: “My job is to help keep our party unified … not to defend the indefensible.”
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 7, 2016
Jeffrey Lord, a Trump surrogate, offered a quick response on CNN. Lord called Ryan’s comments racist.
“Speaker Ryan has apparently switched positions and is now supporting identity politics, which is racist,” Lord said.
Trump is facing intense criticism from both Republican and Democratic leaders for insisting that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, an American citizen who was born in Indiana, should recuse himself from a lawsuit involving Trump University because he’s the son of Mexican immigrants. In a Friday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump insisted that the judge had a conflict of interest.
“I’m building a wall,” Trump said in the interview, which aired in full Sunday. “He’s a Mexican.”
The Clinton campaign seized on Trump’s rhetoric, released a scathing online ad on Monday that showcased Republican backlash — including Ryan’s — after Trump brought up Curiel’s heritage last week.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 6, 2016
“I completely disagree with the thinking behind that,” Ryan said in a radio interview that was included in Clinton’s 90-second video.
Clinton, who amassed enough delegates Monday to become the presumptive Democratic nominee, said Trump’s comments about the judge are proof he’s unfit to be president.
“He’s trying to demean and defame a federal judge who was a very accomplished federal prosecutor,” Clinton told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview that aired Monday night. “I imagine he’ll move on to women judges because he’s been insulting women so regularly, or maybe a judge with a disability, or perhaps one who was a former POW, or African-American.”
She demurred when asked whether Trump himself is racist. But she echoed conservative commenters, including Erick Erickson and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, in labeling Trump’s comments as such.
“I don’t know what’s in his heart, but I know what he’s saying with respect to the judge, that’s a racist attack,” she said. “I don’t know what else you could call these attacks other than racist, other than prejudice, other than bigoted. It’s just plain wrong, and certainly wrong coming from someone who is vying to become president of the United States.”