WASHINGTON — Two days after his anointment by President Donald Trump’s team to run for the U.S. Senate, Congressman Jim Renacci found himself the rare politician from either party defending Trump’s apparent reference to places like Haiti and El Salvador as "s***hole" countries.
"I’ve said all along the president many times says what people are thinking," Renacci told Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade.
It’s a line the Wadsworth Republican has used repeatedly when asked about Trump, but it’s the first time Renacci has applied it to a statement widely condemned as overtly racist.
And it brought this response from the senator he is trying to unseat, Democrat Sherrod Brown:
"I disagree with Congressman Renacci’s characterization that President Trump’s disgusting and hateful comments about immigrants were speaking for what many Americans are thinking. The president certainly isn’t speaking for me and he isn’t speaking for a great majority of people across Ohio."
Trump’s vulgar comment also brought condemnation from Renacci’s fellow Republican, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, during a pair of TV appearances.
"I think what the president did was wrong," Kasich said on CNN. "The comments were totally inappropriate. You don’t need to be insulting people around the world."
The governor added "there ought to be unanimity among Republicans" condemning what Trump said, and the president should apologize.
Although Trump tweeted an apparent denial of the disparaging comments from an Oval Office meeting Thursday with lawmakers during a discussion about immigration, they were confirmed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, Friday morning, who said, "He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly."
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, said he confronted Trump about his comments Thursday but didn’t specifically confirm the vulgar remark. Other lawmakers at the White House gathering have said they don’t remember or aren’t commenting.
Renacci, who dropped out of the GOP gubernatorial primary Thursday to run for the Senate, said he "absolutely" would like Trump by his side during his campaign. "I think a lot like the president," he said.
Renacci said America shouldn’t be judging the president by what he is saying now.
"I always say judge the president after four years. Let’s judge the president after what we’ve done — let’s not judge the president on what he says," Renacci said.
Asked about Renacci’s remarks on MSNBC, Kasich replied, "I don’t agree with him ... I don’t think you wait four years. I’ve been supportive of the president when I think he’s been right and I’ve been opposed to him when I think he hasn’t been right."
Most of the Fox interview is posted on Renacci’s Twitter feed — although his remarks defending Trump are not included.
Another candidate in the Senate race, Don Elijah Eckhart, also panned Trump’s remark: "It is not representative of a Christian nation, and should not be considered as normal Christian language and ideas."
The other GOP Senate hopeful, Melissa Ackison, said, "I wasn’t in the room so I don’t know what was actually said and the context in which it was said and therefore will not judge my president’s alleged words without knowing the facts."
Renacci entered the Senate race after state Treasurer Josh Mandel abruptly left it for family reasons. The congressman tweeted Thursday: "When President @realDonaldTrump asks you to run — you do it."
Spokesman James Slepian said Renacci is glad to hear that Trump is now denying the remark.
"Jim believes that one of our nation’s greatest strengths is that we are a proud nation of immigrants from all backgrounds, ethnicities and corners of the globe — a view Jim believes the president shares as well," Slepian said.
Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township, called Trump’s comments "outright appalling."
"This kind of inflammatory, hurtful, and divisive language has no place in our society, yet is par for the course for this White House," she said. "We need a president who champions civility and diversity, encourages inclusiveness, and understands that America was made great by people from all walks of life."
Rick Neal, a Democrat seeking to oust U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, said Trump’s comments "are beneath the dignity of his office. They make difficult discussions about immigration in the United States ever harder."
He added: "Equally unacceptable is the silence of Representative Steve Stivers in response to the president’s racist comments."
Stivers did not make a public comment on Trump’s remark, a tack taken by many Republicans. Reaction from other GOP officials was tepid at best; House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin called Trump’s screed "very unfortunate."
Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee Chairman, was asked on MSNBC if he thinks Trump is a racist.
His response: "Yeah, I do. At this point the evidence is incontrovertible. It’s right there."