WASHINGTON (AP) — Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday criticized Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's proposal to bar Muslims from entering the U.S., saying such views are "not what this party stands for and more importantly it's not what this country stands for."
Speaking to reporters after a closed-door GOP caucus meeting, Ryan addressed Trump's remarks without mentioning him by name. The speaker said he doesn't normally comment on the presidential race but was making an exception.
"Freedom of religion is a fundamental constitutional principle," Ryan said. "This is not conservatism. What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for. And more importantly, it's not what this country stands for."
The Wisconsin Republican said many Muslims serve the country in the military and work in Congress, "the vast, vast, vast majority of whom are peaceful, who believe in pluralism, freedom, democracy, individual rights."
Trump on Monday called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" in the wake of attacks at home and abroad. Trump's proposed ban would apply to immigrants and visitors alike.
Asked if he will support Trump if he's the nominee, Ryan said he will support whomever the Republicans nominate for the presidency.
Ryan, the GOP's 2012 vice presidential nominee, dismissed a question about whether Trump's comments might cause lasting damage for the GOP.
"I'm not concerned about lasting damage to the party. I'm concerned about standing up for our country's principles," Ryan said. "These are first principles, and our party is dedicated to these first principles. And that's why I think it's incumbent upon leaders of our party like myself to stand up and defend what conservatism is and what the Republican Party stands for."
In the closed-door session, Ryan urged the GOP rank and file to steer clear of Trump's message.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Ryan told Republicans "not to go down that road. That's not who we are as a country or who we are as a party — that religious liberty is a fundamental American right and that we should never compromise on that front and that's an inappropriate policy to pursue. He was very direct and very strong."
Republican Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona told reporters that Ryan told the weekly closed-door meeting of the House GOP that Trump's proposal would violate at least two constitutional amendments.