McConnell, Ryan Challenge Trump to Disavow White Supremacists

Ryan said candidates "must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry."

ByABC News
March 1, 2016, 11:26 AM

— -- The top Republicans in Congress rebuked white supremacists Tuesday in thinly-veiled criticism of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who has courted controversy this week by declining to distance himself from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and the support of the white supremacist community.

"If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican party, there can be no evasion and no games," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin said in unprompted remarks on the presidential race in a news conference today, as voters in 12 states cast ballots in the GOP and Democratic presidential primaries.

"This party does not prey on people's prejudices," he continued. "We appeal to their highest ideals."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters Tuesday afternoon that Senate Republicans "condemn David Duke, the KKK and his racism."

While neither Republican mentioned Trump by name in remarks Tuesday, their comments were clearly directed at the New York businessman, who has courted controversy on social media and in recent interviews when questioned about the support of white supremacists.

In an interview with CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, Trump declined to disavow support from Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, claiming he did not know enough about him or the group, despite denouncing Duke in a news conference Friday.

He later claimed he had not heard the question from CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday, blaming a faulty earpiece.

Trump again disavowed Duke in on ABC's "Good Morning America" Tuesday, saying "nobody has done so much for equality as I have."

The rare comments on the presidential race from Ryan and McConnell, who typically decline to answer questions on the presidential race from reporters, come as top Republicans in Washington grow increasingly concerned that Trump, who has won the last three Republican primary contests, is on the path to win the GOP presidential nomination.

"I hope this is the last time I need to speak out on this race," Ryan said Tuesday. "It's time we get back to focusing on how, very specifically, how we are going to get to solving the many problems that American families are facing after seven years of Barack Obama."

Ryan, who will preside over the Republican National Convention as House Speaker, said he'll support his party's nominee for president.

McConnell did not dispute a recent report from the New York Times that claimed he's privately told Republicans he'd be ready to drop Trump "like a hot rock" if he wins the GOP nomination.

"I don't remember saying anything like that to all of you," he said to the assembled reporters.

ABC's Ali Weinberg contributed to this report.