Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington Confirm Scott Palk for the Western District of Oklahoma MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday sought to distance his colleagues from GOP presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpNeverTrumpers change their tune Labor leader defends Ellison from anti-Semitism accusations Guns N' Roses invites fans in Mexico City to whack Trump piñata MORE by condemning the Ku Klux Klan.
McConnell noted to reporters that "one of our presidential candidates" had over the weekend expressed "seeming ambivalence" about former KKK grand wizard David Duke.
The Senate leader made it a point to draw a bright line between his conference and Trump's remarks about Duke before taking questions.
"Let me make it perfectly clear, Senate Republicans condemn David Duke [and] the KKK," he said. Regarding Trump's comments, McConnell added: "That is not the view of Republicans that have been elected to the United States Senate."
“I condemn his comments in the most forceful way,” he added.
But McConnell declined to go much beyond that statement, citing his personal policy since the start of last year of not commenting on the presidential race.
“I’m going to continue to avoid weighing in on the presidential contest at this point,” he said.
Vulnerable Senate Republicans such as Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteBattle brews over Trump’s foreign policy Battle for the Senate: Top of ticket dominates NH voters hold Ayotte accountable for gun control votes MORE (N.H.) have also condemned Trump's remarks.
Trump declined to denounce Duke during a CNN interview Sunday after the radio host encouraged his listeners to suport the real estate mogul's campaign, and blamed a faulty earpiece for making the interviewer's question unintelligible.
“I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists,” he told CNN host Jake Tapper.
Some Senate Republicans were skeptical of Trump’s excuse after receiving a hail of criticism.
“KKK is pretty easy to hear,” Sen. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeSenators crafting bill to limit deportations under Trump Interest groups keep the political ads coming Overnight Healthcare: Cures bill sails through House | Walden frontrunner for Energy and Commerce gavel MORE (R-Ariz.) remarked to reporters Tuesday.
When asked later in the press conference whether Trump would be suitable choice to head the GOP ticket in light of his most recent comments, McConnell again sought to distinguish his party from its likely nominee.
“I think it’s very important that the American people understand that the Republican Party condemns in the strongest possible language David Duke, the KKK and everything they stand for,” he said.