WASHINGTON – A rising number of Republicans, including Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, are denouncing Donald Trump for hosting a dinner with white nationalist and antisemitic guests – but few if any expect the former president to apologize.
“There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy," said McConnell, R-Ky., a frequent antagonist of Trump. "And anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgement, is highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States."
McConnell and others spoke out a day after former Vice President Mike Pence called on Trump to actually apologize for last week's meeting that included white nationalist Nick Fuentes and rapper Ye (formerly known as Kanye West), both of whom have made a series of statements attacking Jews.
“President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table," Pence told NewsNation. "I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.”
Trump did not express regret, telling Fox News Digital Tuesday that McConnell "is a loser for our nation and for the Republican Party."
As for the dinner, Trump repeated his previous statements that he "had never heard of Nick Fuentes" and "I had no idea what his views were and they weren’t expressed at the table in our very quick dinner, or it wouldn't have been accepted."
Congressional Republicans returning from Thanksgiving recess also denounced the former president's meeting with racists. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who had been silent about last week's dinner, criticized it when asked by reporters after a meeting at the White House with President Joe Biden.
"I don't think anybody should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes," McCarthy said. "He has no place in this Republican Party."
The GOP attacks come two weeks after Trump formally announced he would seek the presidency again in 2024 – a declaration that came just a week after a relatively poor Republican performance in the midterm elections that many party members blamed on Trump.
Still, few Republicans expect Trump to express regret for a dinner with extremists.
“In the six years since Donald became a political figure, he has never once apologized for any of the racist, sexist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophonic, Islamophobic, antisemitic statements he has made," said Michael Cohen, Trump's former attorney.
"Why would anyone believe he would apologize for this?”
Trump has not commented on the dinner since a Saturday statement in which he avoided responsibility.
In a statement posted on Truth Social, Trump said he did not know Fuentes, and that he was a guest of Ye, who has lost sponsorship deals because of recent antisemitic statements.
"Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, was asking me for advice concerning some of his difficulties, in particular having to do with his business," Trump said. "We also discussed, to a lesser extent, politics."
Trump said he urged Ye not to run for president because "any voters you may have should vote for TRUMP."
"Anyway, we got along great, he expressed no anti-Semitism, & I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on 'Tucker Carlson,'" Trump said. "Why wouldn’t I agree to meet? Also, I didn’t know Nick Fuentes."
Throughout the weekend, Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans condemned GOP members who avoided comment on the meeting with racists. They also signaled that the racism issue is likely to follow Trump and the Republicans throughout the 2024 campaign.
"To give an antisemite even the smallest platform – much less an audience over dinner – is pure evil," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Republicans who have criticized Trump are long-time critics of the ex-president.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., one of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump on impeachment charges stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, tweeted that "hosting racist antisemites for dinner encourages other racist antisemites. These attitudes are immoral and should not be entertained."
Outgoing Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who lost her primary to a Trump-backed challenger, attributed McCarthy's reticence to his efforts to become speaker of the House with the votes of pro-Trump members. "I know you want to be Speaker, but are you willing to be completely amoral?" she said on Twitter.
Criticism from pro-Trump lawmakers was muted. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said "the meeting was bad" and Trump "shouldn't have done it." Graham also said, "I don’t think it’ll matter in terms of his political future, but I do believe we need to watch who we meet with."
While calling for an apology, Pence also defended the ex-president by telling NewsNation: "I don’t believe Donald Trump is an antisemite. I don’t believe he’s a racist or a bigot. I would not have been his vice president if he was."
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah – who voted to convict Trump in both of his impeachment cases, the Jan 6 insurrection as well as Trump's efforts to pressure the Ukraine government to investigate Biden – was scornful of the Fuentes and Ye meeting. He said "there is no bottom to the degree to which" Trump is willing "to degrade himself, and the country for that matter."
Romney also issued Republicans a warning about the presidential election in two years.
"I don't think he should be president of the United States," Romney said. "I don't think he should be the nominee of our party in 2024. And I certainly don't want him hanging over our party like a gargoyle.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: McConnell, Republicans denounce Trump's dinner with white supremacist