WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan says Republican lawmakers should follow their conscience in deciding whether or not to support Donald Trump, the GOP's presumptive nominee for president.
The Wisconsin Republican told NBC's "Meet the Press" that "the last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that's contrary to their conscience. Of course I wouldn't do that."
Ryan, who has given a tepid endorsement to Trump, said he understands he is in a "very strange situation" to be supporting the party's presumptive nominee while not urging his fellow lawmakers to follow suit. But he said Trump is "a very unique nominee."
Ryan is the highest elected Republican official and the official chairman of the Republican convention next month. He stunned the political world in May when he held back his endorsement of Trump before grudgingly offering his support earlier this month. Since then, Ryan has been critical of Trump, calling the candidate's complaints about the impartiality of a judge of Mexican heritage a "textbook definition of a racist comment" and reiterating his opposition to Trump's proposal to temporarily ban all foreign Muslims from entering the United States.
As speaker of the House, Ryan said he feels a responsibility not to lead "some chasm in the middle of our party" that would hurt GOP chances to win the White House. His reluctance to embrace the party's nominee wholeheartedly is remarkable for a Republican who was the GOP's vice presidential candidate in 2012.
Ryan was interviewed Thursday for Sunday's "Meet the Press." An excerpt was released Friday.
Trump, speaking Friday at a packed convention center in The Woodlands, Texas, not far from Houston, tried to play down the rift in the party and bragged about the money he's raised in fundraisers across the state over the last two days, including an event Friday in San Antonio.
"The party is doing very well," he said, insisting that reports of a party revolt were overblown. "The party is actually liking me. You know, ... I'm an outsider and historically they don't love the outsiders. But I think they're starting to like me."
Trump added: "You don't hear about the tremendous numbers of people — and I'm even talking about the politicians — that are totally supportive. If one person raises a little question, it's like, 'Oh, did you hear?' Let me tell you folks, we have tremendous support. Tremendous. But the biggest support of all by far: right here. I'm the messenger."
Ryan told reporters at a news conference Thursday that he will continue to speak out in defense of conservative principles, despite a warning from Trump that Republican congressional leaders should "be quiet."
He and other congressional leaders "represent a separate but equal branch of government," Ryan said as he vowed to "robustly defend the separation of powers."
Ryan's comments came as Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., a 30-year House veteran and committee chairman, said he will not endorse Trump for president. Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan also said he will not vote for the billionaire presidential candidate. And Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a former GOP candidate for president, said he's still not ready to endorse Trump.
Ryan said he has no plans to rescind his endorsement of Trump, despite his differences with him.
"I don't have a plan to do that," he said Thursday, calling differences among party leaders "just the way things work."
In the face of early opinion surveys showing him trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump insisted Friday he's well positioned to win.
"We have support like perhaps nobody's ever had when they've run for office," he said. "Certainly at this stage, I don't think anybody's ever seen anything like this."
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in The Woodlands, Texas, contributed to this report.
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