INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence believes Donald Trump was wrong to claim that a California federal judge, who was born in East Chicago, should be disqualified from presiding over a civil lawsuit involving the Republican presidential nominee due to the judge's Mexican heritage.
"Of course I think those comments were inappropriate," Pence told reporters Tuesday.
"I don't think it's ever appropriate to question the partiality of a judge based on their ethnic background."
Though Pence, who is a lawyer, conditioned his remarks by first declaring: "Every American is entitled to a fair trial and an impartial judge."
Trump repeatedly has said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel is "Mexican," and, as such, unfit to rule in a class-action fraud lawsuit involving the now-defunct Trump University, because Trump plans to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border if he's elected president.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee later Tuesday said his remarks have been "misconstrued" and he is justified in questioning the legal proceedings.
"I do not feel that one's heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial," Trump said in a statement.
Both U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner have condemned Trump for his remarks.
In light of Trump's appeal to ethnic discrimination, Pence declined to say whether he's reconsidering plans to support Trump on the campaign trail and to vote for him in November.
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"You know, if I wanted to comment on everything that's being said in the presidential campaigns, I would have run for president," Pence said, before aides shuffled him off to Charleston for a fundraiser on behalf of a West Virginia gubernatorial candidate.
Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, who previously served as chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, responded to Trump questions by proclaiming, "I'm supporting our nominee."
When reporters pointed out Trump was attacking a Hoosier and that even conservative Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse described Trump's effort to remove the judge as racist, Holcomb twice repeated: "I'm supporting our nominee."
Indiana Democratic Party leaders, including former East Chicago state Rep. John Aguilera, blasted Pence and Hoosier Republicans on Monday for being slow to condemn Trump's disparagement of an Indiana native.
Jeff Cardwell, the Republican chairman, who has not condemned Trump's remarks, described the Democratic effort to unite Hoosiers in defense of one of their own as "another typical stunt from the Democrat Party."
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said he was disappointed the Indiana Republican Party so far has refused to speak out against prejudice and stand up for Hoosiers.
"It most definitely is not a stunt," Donnelly said.
"Hoosiers know we are a stronger country when we work together, and it's fair of them to expect their elected officials to believe the same.
"We can only hope that young people in East Chicago and around the country will not be discouraged or marginalized by the dangerous and divisive comments made by Trump," Donnelly said.