House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a strong rebuke of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's call to impose a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
Ryan, speaking during a news conference Tuesday, said he does not normally comment on what takes place in the presidential race, but felt it was "incumbent upon leaders," including himself, to "stand up and defend what conservatism is" and what Republican Party principles are writ large.
"This is not conservatism. What was proposed [Monday by Trump] is not what this party stands for and more importantly, it is not what this country stands for."
Ryan, the GOP's vice presidential nominee in 2012, said that freedom of religion is both a fundamental constitutional principle and one that the United States was founded on. He also praised the many Muslims that are allies in the nation's fight against Islamic terror.
"Not only are there many Muslims serving in our armed forces dying for this country, there are Muslims serving right here in the House, working every day to uphold and defend the Constitution. Some of our best and biggest allies in this struggle and fight against radical Islamic terror are Muslims. The vast, vast, vast, vast majority of whom are peaceful, who believe in pluralism, freedom, democracy, individual rights."
Ahead of a rally in South Carolina on Monday, Trump released a statement that said, in part:
"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." The statement continues, "Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life."
As we've reported, most of the other GOP presidential candidates have condemned Trump's proposal. Ryan's comments as House speaker represent the highest elected Republican to rebuff Trump, who is leading in most national polls.
Later in the news conference, Ryan was asked whether he was concerned about Trump hurting the Republican Party. He responded that he was less worried about "lasting damage" than he was about the country's "first principles" and the party's dedication to them.
Ryan was also asked if he could back Trump, should he become the party's eventual nominee.
"I'm going to support whoever the Republican nominee is and I'm going to stand up for what I believe in as I do that," Ryan said.
Update at 2:37 p.m. ET: White House Responds To Trump's Plan
During the daily press briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about Trump's proposal and whether President Obama would be doing more to combat anti-Muslim sentiments.
After saying he didn't have any updates about the president's schedule, he pivoted to a dig, comparing the Trump campaign to a "carnival barker."
"The Trump campaign, for months now, has had a dustbin of history-like quality to it, from the vacuous sloganeering to the outright lies to even the fake hair, the whole carnival barker routine that we've seen for some time now."
He added that the first thing a president does is take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. Earnest said that the leading Republican candidate's call to ban Muslims from entering the country should render Trump, and anyone who has vowed to eventually support him should he become the GOP nominee, unfit for the presidency.
"Now, I know that each of the Republican candidates has already taken an oath pledging to support Donald Trump for president of the United States if he wins the nomination," Earnest said. He continued, "And the fact is that what Donald Trump said [Monday] disqualifies him from serving as president, and for Republican candidates for president to stand by their pledge to support Mr. Trump, that in and of itself is disqualifying."
Update at 2:45 p.m. ET: Former President George W. Bush & Texas Sen. Ted Cruz comment
In a statement, Freddy Ford, a spokesperson for George W. Bush, said the former president won't be "commenting on or giving oxygen to any of Trump's bluster." Adding:
"[President Bush] has always said that those who murder the innocent in order to advance a political, ideological, or religious objective are not religious. They are terrorists. True Islam is peaceful; radical Islam is "the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death."
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is also running for the GOP nomination, told NPR's Steve Inskeep Tuesday that he did not agree with Donald Trump's approach.
"My view is we should focus very directly on the threat which is radical Islamic terrorism. And Islamism — there are millions of peaceful Muslims in America. This is not about the Islamic faith."
The full Cruz interview will air on Wednesday's Morning Edition.