The second-ranking House Democrat is challenging Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanOvernight Healthcare: Ryan says key ObamaCare payments will continue during House lawsuit White House invites House Intel Dem to view documents Tea Party leader ‘disgusted’ by Trump’s attack on Freedom Caucus MORE's (R-Wis.) assertion that the GOP "does not prey on people’s prejudices."
"Would that that were the case," Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday.
Minutes earlier, Ryan had admonished Donald TrumpDonald TrumpLiberals don't understand difference between news and opinion Rubio: Former campaign aides targeted by IP address in Russia Ivanka Trump will be an asset in her new role at the White House MORE's recent refusal to rebuff the support of a former Ku Klux Klan leader, saying any GOP presidential candidate "must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry."
"This party does not prey on people’s prejudices," Ryan said during a press briefing. "We appeal to their highest ideals."
But Hoyer, the minority whip, said state GOP efforts to toughen voting laws — and Ryan's refusal to vote on legislation bolstering anti-discrimination protections at the polls — are indication enough to doubt the Speaker's claim.
He's challenging Ryan to consider the bipartisan bill updating the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), a central provision of which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.
That court decision cleared the way for states — almost all of them headed by Republicans — to adopt the tougher voting laws without federal scrutiny.
"Throughout the country we have seen — in state after state after state — Republicans making it more difficult to vote, more difficult to register, more difficult to be assured that their votes would count," Hoyer said.
Those state laws — including new voter ID requirements, higher registration hurdles and shorter voting windows — have disproportionately affected minorities, seniors and young voters, Hoyer charged.
"We can't get the voting rights bill to the floor. The Speaker can bring it to the floor," Hoyer said.
"I would hope, consistent with his statement today, that he would bring it to the floor, so that we could restore the protections that minorities have in this country under the Voting Rights Act that was passed in 2006 and signed by George [W.] Bush."
Hoyer was referring to the last reauthorization of the VRA, which occurred a decade ago under Republican leadership.
As recently as this month, Ryan has said he supports the new voting rights bill, which is sponsored by Reps. Jim SensenbrennerJames SensenbrennerGOP rep: Funds from Mexican cartels can pay for border wall GOP rep: Trump or Mike Pence will be president for next 4 years Wyden, Sensenbrenner lead February town halls MORE (R-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.).
But, consistent with vows to run the House from the bottom up, Ryan has insisted he won't consider the bill without the initial support of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue.
Ryan's position all but kills the bill this year, as the head of the Judiciary panel, Rep. Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteMoving Copyright Office authorities to executive branch could improve accountability Register of copyrights should be presidential appointee Week ahead: Senate takes aim at Obama-era 'blacklisting' rule MORE (R-Va.), opposes a VRA update. Goodlatte argues that the Supreme Court left ample provisions intact to ensure voters' rights are protected.
The race debate has caught fire since last week, when David Duke, a former KKK grand wizard, endorsed Trump for president. The GOP front-runner initially disavowed the endorsement, but then wavered on a Sunday appearance of CNN's "State of the Union" program.
"I have to look at the group," Trump said. "I mean, I don't know what group you're talking about."
Trump later said there was a misunderstanding resulting from a faulty earpiece.
Democrats have pounced, seeking to portray Trump as a simple embodiment of the Republicans' policy agenda.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement Tuesday highlighting a series of recent policy fights — including those surrounding the Confederate flag, Syrian refugees and the VRA — to argue her case.
“The leading Republican presidential candidate’s refusal to disavow the KKK was a breathtaking low-point for our country," Pelosi said.
"Yet while Donald Trump’s radical agenda does not reflect the values of the American people, it is a perfect reflection of many in the House Republican Conference."
Ryan has been reluctant to enter the primary debate, but the KKK uproar was enough to prompt a rare exception to the rule.
"This is the party of Lincoln. We believe all people are created equal in the eyes of God and our government," Ryan said.
"This is fundamental, and if someone wants to be our nominee, they must understand this. I hope this is the last time I need to speak out on this race."
It was a plea to the candidates in his own party to be more careful with their words on the campaign trail.