Republican lawmakers distanced themselves from controversial comments by Donald Trump this week, but most stuck by him as their party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
Trump has not backed down from his claim in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper that the judge in the court case against Trump University was biased because of his “Mexican heritage.”
“He’s a Mexican,” Trump said of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in Indiana. “We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”
Democrats seized on Trump’s comments to cast the GOP as racist.
And a few Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, announced they could no longer consider voting for Trump.
Other Republican politicians tried to find a way to dissociate themselves from their nominee’s words while maintaining support for his presidential bid.
“It’s wrong to be concerned about the heritage or ethnicity of a judge, and I do not think he should have said that,” said Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.
“What I am concerned about with respect to judges is who appoints them and who confirms them,” Blunt added.
Blunt, who met last month with Trump in Washington, D.C., is running in a tightening race for reelection against Democrat Jason Kander, Missouri’s Secretary of State.
One of Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder’s three Democratic opponents, Jay Sidie, was quick to call on the Republican congressman to state publicly whether he approved of Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel.
Yoder’s campaign said he does not.
“Add this to the list of things upon which Congressman Yoder strongly disagrees with Trump,” said Cate Duerst, Yoder for Congress campaign manager.
Like other Republicans, Yoder has cited Hillary Clinton as the reason he supports Trump for president.
Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins, one of Yoder’s Kansas colleagues, said in a statement that she will continue to support Trump because she believes “he has a more conservative vision than the destructive vision espoused by Hillary Clinton.”
But she added, “I completely disagree with Mr. Trump’s comment about U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel.”
“On this issue, he is flat wrong,” Jenkins said.
Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, a Republican, also has said he supports Trump over Clinton. He said in a statement that liberals believe that ethnicity determines how one thinks, not conservatives.
“No believer in freedom would suggest being of a particular race required thinking like others of his race,” Pompeo said. “Such thinking is both wrong and dangerous.”
Some lawmakers did not reply to questions about Trump’s comments, including Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Pat Roberts of Kansas, Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri and Rep. Tim Huelksamp of Kansas.
Moran, who last week told a Kansas radio station he prefers Trump to Clinton, was traveling and unavailable for comment Monday, his office said.
Huelskamp also said to be traveling and unavailable for comment.
“In fact, he was at Fort Riley today celebrating Victory Week with the troops,” Huelskamp spokesman Jon Meadows said in an email.