WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. David Perdue said he is “troubled” by Donald Trump’s recent remarks about a federal judge with Mexican heritage, telling reporters Tuesday that the billionaire’s recent comments are distracting from more serious policy discussions that could help bolster the GOP’s case for the White House this fall.
The freshman senator, who has quickly become the presumptive Republican nominee’s most prominent Georgia surrogate, said an apology “would be appropriate” and that it was important for the next president to unite the country.
“It’s a terrible, terrible statement. Let’s not minimize the statement,” Perdue told reporters on Capitol Hill. “It’s not representative I think of him or his campaign or the Republican Party and I hope we’ll see that corrected.”
Perdue said he was in touch with the Trump campaign two weeks ago but would not disclose the details of his discussions. He said he did not know if an apology was forthcoming.
The freshman senator made a splash at last weekend’s Georgia GOP Convention when he donned Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hat while addressing the crowd.
Trump has drawn criticism from Democrats and many Republicans for his comments last week that American-born U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel had a conflict of interest in his oversight of cases against Trump University because of his Mexican ancestry.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called Trump’s remarks “racist” earlier Tuesday, and other Capitol Hill Republicans worried that the comments could harm the party’s standing at the ballot box in November, particularly against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
In a lengthy statement posted on his website later on Tuesday afternoon, Trump defended his earlier remarks and said they were misconstrued by the media:
“It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage,” Trump said. “I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent. The American justice system relies on fair and impartial judges. All judges should be held to that standard. I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial.”
Perdue earlier on Tuesday repeatedly emphasized that Trump and the party would be better served by drawing policy contrasts against Clinton and the Obama administration on issues such as jobs and the economy.
“I think the sooner we get this behind us and we can talk about the issues where he does have the high ground the better off we’d be,” Perdue said. “And I think you may see that coming out in the next day or two.”
Meanwhile, Johnny Isakson, Georgia’s senior U.S. senator, said he didn’t make much of Trump’s comments.
“I just think talking about a pending case in court if you’re a defendant or a plaintiff, the conversations ought to be in the courtroom and not outside,” he said.