Trump questions overshadow unveiling of Ryan's agenda

Paul Ryan: Donald Trump's comments are 'the textbook definition of racist'
Paul Ryan: Donald Trump's comments are 'the textbook definition of racist'

House Speaker Paul Ryan headed to one of Washington, D.C.'s poorest neighborhoods on Thursday for a major announcement: the unveiling of his new six-point domestic policy agenda designed to inspire fellow Republicans – and show voters that, under his leadership, the GOP is moving beyond the Party of No.

But in a Q&A with reporters after a carefully scripted event on poverty, Ryan got Trumped – again.

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For the second time in the week since giving him a lukewarm endorsement, Ryan answered uncomfortable questions about the decision of Donald Trump, the GOP's presidential nominee, to attack a federal judge of Mexican heritage presiding over a fraud lawsuit against the now-defunct Trump University.

"I disavow these comments. I regret those comments that he made," Ryan told reporters. "Claiming a person can't do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment."

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Ryan went on: Trump's declaration that a Latino judge is biased against him because of Trump's zero-tolerance stance on immigration "should be absolutely disavowed. It's absolutely unacceptable. But do I believe that Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not."

"I believe that we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day," he added, "and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him than with her."

Then, Ryan – the top Republican on Capitol Hill, who for months had withheld his endorsement of Trump until late last week – was asked how he could support someone for president whom he'd just acknowledged had said something racist.

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"I don't know what's in his heart," Ryan said. "I do absolutely disavow those comments. I think they are wrong. I don't think they are right-headed. And the thinking behind it is something I don't personally relate to. But at the end of the day this is about ideas. This is about moving our agenda forward."

Trump has repeatedly criticized U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, after claiming the judge has been "very unfair" because he was of "Mexican heritage" and doesn't like Trump's plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal immigration.

"I'm building a wall," Trump said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week. "It's an inherent conflict of interest."

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Ryan had come to Anacostia to unveil his legislative blueprint, titled "A Better Way," and praise House of Help City of Hope, a neighborhood nonprofit anti-poverty center run by Bishop Shirley Holloway, a minister. Ryan said Holloway's no-excuses, poverty-to-work program is a model of how the GOP plans to break the cycle of seemingly intractable poverty.

The key to lifting people out of poverty is job training, meaningful work and lifestyle changes, Ryan said, adding that self-restraint is the essence of self-respect."

Rather than create more government programs, Ryan said, Congress and the White House can do more and help more people if they listen to people like Holloway. He said she has spent decades helping people fight addiction, fight poverty and is "winning" by empowering people and giving them opportunity.

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"If we want people to contribute to our society, then we need to reward those contributions," he said. The GOP plan, Ryan added, would reward work, provide job training, financial management skills and demand results.

"This is how you fight poverty. This is how you create opportunity. This is how you help people move onward and upward," Ryan said.

The Democrats, however, dismissed Ryan's proposals and the 35-page "A Better Way" document – which also includes policy proposals on national security, health care reform, the economy and taxes – as light on specifics and subject to the whims of Trump, the new titular head of the GOP.

"When Speaker Ryan claimed the House of Representatives would serve as a guidepost for the principles of the Republican Party, the reality quickly set in that Trump reigns supreme and Ryan's was lost in the wind," wrote Meredith Kelly, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.