WASHINGTON – Sen. Pat Toomey condemned Donald Trump’s recent criticism of a federal judge as “deeply offensive” Tuesday, but he said he still hopes to support the Republican party’s presumptive nominee for president, walking a fine line as he campaigns for re-election in Pennsylvania.
“This comment about this judge is deeply offensive, it’s ridiculous, it’s outrageous,” Toomey, a Republican, told reporters in the Capitol. “The idea that someone’s ethnicity tells you something about how they’re going to judge cases is just completely wrong and it’s ridiculous and it’s offensive.”
But Toomey, who has not endorsed Trump, said he still hopes to do so.
“I have indicated that I’m hoping that Donald Trump can say and do the things that will make me comfortable supporting him," Toomey said in some of his most extensive comments yet about the presumptive GOP nominee. "I’m not there yet, I’m hoping to be able to get there, but it’s been problematic.”
The news conference encapsulated the dangers Trump poses for vulnerable Republicans like Toomey, who will need the support of both partisans on the right and moderates in the middle to win re-election in Pennsylvania and other swing states. Toomey had called the event to discuss his own plans to toughen background checks on teachers in order to screen out convicted pedophiles. But the latest Trump storm drowned out his message.
“I would rather be focused on how kids can go to school in the safest possible environment and we’re talking about other things,” Toomey said as the event ended. “That is a little frustrating.”
But all the political talk in Washington and elsewhere this week has revolved around Trump’s comments questioning whether U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel can fairly oversee a case involving Trump University because of his Mexican heritage. U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) warned earlier in the day that Trump is leading the country “down a dark and slippery slope” and dividing people as tyrants have in the past.
Many Republicans worry that Trump’s rhetoric will cost them not just the White House, but also the Senate and potentially House seats if he tarnishes the entire party.
Toomey, however, said he still hopes to back Trump because he cannot support Hillary Clinton.
“There’s really only one viable alternative, and for me Hillary Clinton is unacceptable as president of the United States, so that is the reason that this is a challenging situation,” he said. He added that Pennsylvania voters “can very easily distinguish between Donald Trump and Pat Toomey and they will make that distinction and they will evaluate my candidacy based on my record in the Senate and my opponent.”
His Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty, said Toomey’s response didn’t go far enough.
“What is important is this: even after Trump’s racist comments from the weekend, Toomey today stands ready to support him for president,” said a release from McGinty spokesman Josh Levitt.