Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who has endorsed Donald Trump, defended the attacks the estate mogul has made on a federal judge’s Mexican heritage by saying President Obama and Democrats were also racists.
“You can easily argue that the president of the United States is a racist with his policies and his rhetoric,” Zeldin told CNN on Tuesday as he was grilled about Trump’s accusations that U.S. District Court Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing lawsuits against Trump University, was biased against him. Earlier Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Trump’s comments were the “textbook definition” of racism.
“Being a little racist or very racist is not okay, but, quite frankly, the agenda that I see and all the microtargeting to blacks and Hispanics from a policy standpoint, you know, that’s more offensive to me,” Zeldin said in reference to what he called the “Democratic” agenda.
Zeldin said that he thought Trump’s attacks on Curiel, who was born Indiana, were a part of a legal strategy rather than a campaign move.
“It’s a regrettable legal strategy. I don’t think it’s going to help his case,” Zeldin said. “I also don’t think it helps his politics. So it was an unfortunate statement that was made.”
On a conference call with surrogates Monday, Trump urged them to go after reporters and critics that question the presumptive GOP nominee’s remarks about the judge, according to a Bloomberg report.
“The people asking the questions—those are the racists,” Trump reportedly said. “I would go at ’em.”
Zeldin said Tuesday that even if he thought Trump’s judge comments were unfortunate, he would not withdraw his endorsement.
“There’s inspiration to be found, because all across the board this isn’t just one candidate for president of the United States,” Zeldin said. “We have people who are in elected office at federal level, state level, people running for office who with statements and with policy, arguably with the way I define racism, fit the bill.”