Ryan under GOP fire for Trump remarks
By Alexander Bolton and Scott Wong
McConnell, the Senate majority leader from Kentucky, has steadfastly declined to call Trump’s criticism of a federal judge “racist,” a term that Ryan (R-Wis.) pointedly deployed.
“It sets up journalists to ask, ‘Do you agree with Paul Ryan that it was racist?” said an aide to a vulnerable GOP senator
Trump set off a firestorm last week by claiming that a Mexican-American federal judge handling a lawsuit against Trump University was biased because of his heritage.
Republican lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol swiftly expressed strong disapproval, but Ryan ratcheted up the criticism significantly by calling it “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
Ryan’s remarks quickly became a Democratic talking point used to batter vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents.
“This morning, Ryan called Donald Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel the ‘textbook definition of racism.’ Will Johnson join Ryan in calling out Trump’s racism?” American Bridge, a Democrat-allied communications group, asked in a press release targeting Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), one of the chamber’s most endangered incumbents.
The group sent out similar releases pressing Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Roy Blunt(Mo.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McCain (Ariz.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) to condemn Trump’s action as “racist.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Wednesday sent an email to reporters highlighting a Tampa Bay Times article in which three Republican Senate candidates declined to go as far as Ryan.
“Even though high-ranking Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan have condemned Donald Trump’s comments on the Trump University Judge as racist, Florida Senate candidates Carlos Beruff, Ron DeSantis and Carlos Lopez-Cantera avoided going that far,” the Senate Democrats’ political arm wrote.
One GOP senator said he and his colleagues are more upset with Trump’s lack of discipline, which has forced them to play defense instead of talking about the weak economy.
At the same time, the senator added, “nobody was happy with Paul.”
Another Republican senator was more diplomatic: “If he could have gotten his point across without being so definitive and giving Democrats fodder for people lower on the ticket, that would have been good.”
Senate Republicans won’t criticize Ryan publically because they don’t want to pick a fight with the top-ranking House Republican or be seen as defending Trump’s comment, which many thought was ill-advised.
But they have concerns about whether Ryan is thinking enough about how his actions affect the party’s chances of keeping control of the Senate.
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said her boss did what he thought was right.
“He was asked a question and answered honestly. He’s always said he’ll speak out when warranted,” she said.