WASHINGTON • Bowing to pressure from fellow Republicans, Mr Donald Trump has said he would no longer talk about a Mexican-American judge after United States House Speaker Paul Ryan denounced the presidential candidate's criticism of the jurist as textbook racism.
But Mr Trump refused entreaties from party leaders to disavow his charge that US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel was showing bias because of his Mexican heritage and should recuse himself from a lawsuit alleging fraud at Mr Trump's defunct Trump University real estate training school.
The billionaire said in a statement on Tuesday that his previous remarks about Mr Curiel had been misconstrued.
"I do not feel that one's heritage makes them incapable of being impartial but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial," Mr Trump said.
He added he did not plan to comment further on the matter.
He had been suggesting that Mr Curiel's heritage was influencing the judge's opinion about the case because of the real estate tycoon's campaign rhetoric about illegal immigration. Mr Trump has pledged to seal the US-Mexico border with a wall, and has said Mexico is sending rapists and drug dealers to the US.
Mr Ryan, the country's top elected Republican, blasted Mr Trump's comments, which have threatened to disrupt the Republicans' rocky efforts to unite behind the candidate.
Mr 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. I think that should be absolutely disavowed."
Endorsing Mr Trump last week after initial misgivings, Mr Ryan said he still supported his candidacy, saying the presumptive Republican nominee would be preferable to Mrs Hillary Clinton.
The controversy over Mr Trump's attacks on the judge has set back his efforts to try to unify the Republican party behind him ahead of the Nov 8 general election when he will face off against Mrs Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Speaking at the golf club he owns in the hilly suburbs of New York, Mr Trump laid out his vision for the meaning of his campaign slogan "America First", talking about its implications for trade, energy, financial regulation and tax policies.
Breaking with his usual practice of speaking off the cuff, he read from a teleprompter and left without taking questions .
With greater scrutiny of Mr Trump now that he is set to formally win the Republican presidential nomination at the party's convention next month, there are concerns about the party's ability to maintain control of the House of Representatives and Senate.
Dr Lanhee Chen, a senior adviser to former presidential candidate Marco Rubio, said: "Trump's continuing missteps, punctuated by his outrageous and indefensible comments about Judge Curiel, make that goal much more difficult to achieve."