WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says he's not going away.
A day after the Republican National Committee chairman asked the reality television star to tone down his rhetoric, Trump refused to back off his portrayal of Mexican immigrants as criminals. At the same time, he vowed to file paperwork next week ensuring he would qualify for next month's Republican presidential debate, where his hardline immigration policies could emerge as a focus on national television.
Trump said Thursday that his Republican competitor Jeb Bush is "a joke" for suggesting that Mexican immigrants cross the border illegally as "an act of love."
"This has nothing to do with love," Trump said in an interview airing Thursday on Fox News Channel's "Hannity." ''They are taking people that should be in Mexican prisons, Mexican jails and they are pushing them over to the United States. These are dangerous people."
Republican leaders worry that the outspoken businessman is hurting the party's standing with minority voters — particularly the nation's surging Hispanic population — months before voting begins in the 2016 presidential contest.
Trump described Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and "criminals" in his announcement speech last month that prompted various concerned business interests to cut ties with him. He doubled down on the characterization repeatedly this week, highlighting the case of a Mexican immigrant in the country illegally who was recently charged in a California murder.
Leading Republicans were slow to condemn his remarks in recent weeks as many hoped their inattention would help him fade from the headlines. It did not. And as he instead began to dominate the 2016 debate, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus' chief of staff arranged a phone call between the chairman and Trump on Wednesday, according to Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
Trump said the phone call lasted 12 or 13 minutes.
"He really called to congratulate me on being number one in a lot of polls," he said in the Fox interview. "He just couldn't have been nicer."
Priebus also told Trump the Republican Party had been working hard to make inroads with minority voters, who could play a critical role in the 2016 presidential contest, Lewandowski said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"Priebus said, 'I'd appreciate it if you could tone down your rhetoric about illegal immigrants coming across border and killing Americans,'" recounted Lewandowski, who spoke directly to Trump about the conversation. "Mr. Trump said, this is an issue the American people care about, and I'm going to continue to talk about it.'"
Trump seemed to relish the latest dispute, posting a supporter's Twitter message on his account Thursday that read, "Keep throwing those giant hand grenades into the amnesty debate. You're pissing off all the right people in the GOP."
House Speaker John Boehner became the latest high-profile Republican to condemn Trump on Thursday, but suggested congressional inaction was partly to blame.
"I disagree with Mr. Trump's comments, and frankly I think when you look at the presidential candidates they've already pretty well made their position clear," Boehner said when asked to weigh in. Illegal immigration, he continued, "has become the biggest political football I've seen in my congressional career."
He added, "It's not going to get resolved by Congress sticking their heads in the sand."
Asked if the House will act on any immigration legislation this year, Boehner responded, "I would hope so."
Lewandowski said Trump would file his personal financial disclosure forms next week, showing a net worth of $11 billion. Such a disclosure is necessary for Republican candidates wishing to participate in the GOP's first debate on Aug. 6, according to guidelines released by organizers Thursday.
"It's very clear that Trump is going to be on the debate stage," Lewandowski said.
Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.