In a rare display of bipartisan unity during an election year, Republicans and Democrats alike have condemned presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for his comments about the ethnicity of a judge overseeing a class action suit against Trump University.
Members of both parties lambasted the real estate mogul for remarks that they assert were racist. Trump said he felt U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, because of his "Mexican heritage," would not rule fairly in the case that charged Trump with fraud. Curiel is an American who was born and raised in the midwestern U.S. state of Indiana.
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska who has criticized Trump on multiple occasions during the campaign, tweeted: "Saying someone can't do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of 'racism.'''
Also leading the charge Monday were Trump’s two former rivals for the Republican nomination. Ohio Governor John Kasich tweeted that Trump's offensive "is flat out wrong.'' Trump, Kasich wrote, should "apologize to Judge Curiel & try to unite this country.''
Florida Senator Marco Rubio agreed. "It's wrong and I hope he stops.''
But no mea culpa was forthcoming from the candidate. Trump insisted earlier Monday that Curiel could not be impartial in the legal action against him because the jurist's parents were born in Mexico and Trump wants to build a wall along the Mexican border.
Republican Senator Susan Collins called Trump's comments "absolutely unacceptable."
Democratic Congressman Filemon Vela said in an open letter published Monday that Trump's "ignorant anti-immigrant opinions," border wall rhetoric and continued attacks on a sitting federal judge "are just plain despicable."
Vela, who represents a district along the U.S.-Mexico border, says his great-great-grandfather came to the U.S. in 1857 — well before Trump's ancestors.
Vela wrote, "Mr. Trump you are a racist and you can take your border wall and shove it…."
Kasich, Rubio and Collins joined other top Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who all condemned Trump's remarks on Sunday.
While Trump has called repeatedly for the judge to recuse himself, his lawyers have not made any such request. Judges generally are thought to have conflicts of interest only in more specific situations, such as a financial interest in the outcome of the case.
Judge Curiel was appointed to the California State Superior Court in 2006 by then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. He was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama.
In 1997, he was believed to be the target of an assassination attempt from a Mexican drug cartel, was put under 24-hour watch by the U.S. Marshal Service for a year, and was moved to a military base and eventually to Justice Department headquarters in Washington. He went on to serve as the lead attorney for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force between 1999 and 2002.
Trump's attacks on the jurist began when Curiel, at the request of news organizations, ordered the unsealing of documents in the case that have proved embarrassing for the real-estate magnate.
Asked by an interviewer on Sunday whether he also would challenge the objectivity of a Muslim judge in a case involving him, given Trump's plan to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., the candidate responded: "Yeah. That would be possible, absolutely.''