By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The leader of the U.S. House of Representatives distanced himself from Donald Trump on Monday as the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign sank deeper into crisis over his sexually aggressive remarks about women.
House Speaker Paul Ryan told an emergency meeting of fellow Republican lawmakers that he would neither defend Trump or campaign with him in the coming 30 days, the time remaining to the Nov. 8 presidential and congressional elections, but would focus on protecting Republican majorities in Congress.
His comments were made during a conference call by Republicans in the U.S. Congress, a source familiar with the call said. The call was arranged to work out how to handle the fallout from a video that surfaced on Friday showing the Republican nominee making lewd comments about women in 2005.
Ryan said that he would spend the remainder of the election campaign making sure that if Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wins in November she does not get a “blank check” in the form of Democrat-controlled Congress, the source said. Republicans currently control both the House and Senate.
The latest drama around Trump, a New York businessman who has never previously run for public office, has plunged the party into its biggest crisis in decades.
Ryan has had several public disagreements with Trump but until now has nonetheless supported his presidential bid.
During a weekend dominated by criticism of Trump over the remarks about women, a string of members of Congress, governors and other prominent Republicans called on him to drop out of the race.
Republican members of Congress are worried that Trump’s campaign could ruin their chances of holding their majorities in the elections and inflict long-term damage on the party.
Nearly half of all 332 incumbent Republican senators, congress members and governors have condemned Trump’s remarks, and roughly 1 in 10 have called on him to drop out of the race, according to a Reuters review of official statements and local news coverage.
But any attempt to replace Trump on the ballot this close to Election Day would face huge legal and logistical hurdles.
A defiant Trump went on the offensive in a vicious presidential debate on Sunday, saying Clinton would go to jail if he were president and attacking her husband, Bill Clinton, for his treatment of women.
The debate, the second of three before the vote, was remarkable for the brutal nature of the exchanges between the two.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan, Amanda Becker, Amy Tennery, Michelle Conlin, James Oliphant and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry)
IMAGE: Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at a news conference following a closed Republican party conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo