The co-chair for Donald Trump’s U.S. House Leadership Committee played defense on Thursday, insisting he was “not a surrogate” and shouldn’t have to answer for everything the real estate tycoon says.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) was one of the first congressmen to endorse Trump and was tasked by the campaign with ginning up support for the presumptive GOP nominee on Capitol Hill. Yet he distanced himself from the candidate on Thursday when confronted with a group of reporters on his way off the House floor.
“I am not a surrogate,” Hunter told The Hill later that afternoon, explaining why he refused to answer their questions about Trump. “I am a congressman. I can’t speak for anybody else but me.”
“Everybody’s asking me to explain all these things that he said,” Hunter continued. “Some of these things, I don’t know what Donald Trump is thinking. … I don’t know where Donald Trump is coming from.”
The California Republican has spoken up on Trump’s behalf on many previous occasions. After Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was criticized for grabbing a reporter’s arm in March, Hunter’s chief of staff said the incident had “no influence” on Hunter’s support for the candidate. More recently, he defended Trump’s attacks on the “Mexican heritage” of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, affirming Trump’s false claim that Curiel was a member of a pro-Mexican civil rights group.
Though Hunter claims that he doesn’t know what Trump is thinking, he is among the group of supporters now receiving daily talking points from the campaign, according to a May New York Times Magazine story.
Still, Hunter told The Hill that there were some Trump comments that were simply “unexplainable” and he felt no obligation to try to parse them. One example, Hunter said, was the “stuff about U.S. military taking money.”
“I don’t know what he meant by that,” he added.
Trump this week claimed that American troops in Iraq embezzled millions of dollars, though his spokeswoman Hope Hicks later said he was referring to Iraqi soldiers.