CHICAGO (AP) - Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said Tuesday that Donald Trump's recent comments about a federal judge of Mexican descent are "un-American" and he cannot support the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee - a reversal that came amid intensifying criticism from Democrats, including rival U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth.
Kirk, who's considered one the GOP's most vulnerable incumbents, said in an emailed statement that he had hoped the campaign rhetoric would tone down. But he said he concluded Trump doesn't have the temperament to command the U.S. military and an arsenal of nuclear weapons.
"While I oppose the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump's latest statements, in context with past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me, make it certain that I cannot and will not support my party's nominee for President regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party," Kirk said.
The Illinois senator had previously said he "certainly would" support Trump if he's the GOP nominee, and suggested the New York real estate developer could help bring more supporters to the polls.
But Republicans in recent days have been scrambling to respond to Trump's latest incendiary comments that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel can't fairly preside over a case involving Trump University because Trump wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
That remark, and others about immigrants and women, have caused particular concern for Republicans in left-leaning states such as Illinois, who worry they could hurt GOP candidates further down the ballot.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who's looking to pick up GOP seats in the Legislature this fall, also issued a statement Tuesday saying he's "disgusted" by the remarks. Rauner's aides have said he won't endorse Trump or attend this summer's Republican National Convention.
Trump issued a statement Tuesday saying his words about Curiel have been "misconstrued."
Democrats criticized Kirk's statement as too little too late, noting it took nearly a year.
"What took so long?" said Matt McGrath, Duckworth's deputy campaign manager. "Apparently for Mark Kirk, it's acceptable to refer to Mexicans as rapists; to propose banning Muslims from entering the country; to call women fat pigs and dogs; to mock a reporter's disability; and to insult just about everyone who doesn't look like Donald Trump."
During an event Monday in Chicago, Duckworth ripped Kirk for not condemning Trump's latest statements.
"Any politician who stays silent, or hopes to fly under the radar, is complicit in his campaign of hate and division - and deserves to be judged harshly," she said.
On Tuesday, the Democratic Party of Illinois launched a website that highlights comments by both Trump and Kirk and includes a quiz in which visitors can guess which candidate said each comment.
Among the quotes is one in which Kirk was caught on a live audio recording calling Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is single, a "bro with no ho." Kirk later apologized.
The senator's full statement below:
"I have spent my life building bridges and tearing down barriers--not building walls. That's why I find Donald Trump's belief that an American-born judge of Mexican descent is incapable of fairly presiding over his case is not only dead wrong, it is un-American.
As the Presidential campaign progressed, I was hoping the rhetoric would tone down and reflect a campaign that was inclusive, thoughtful and principled. While I oppose the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump's latest statements, in context with past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me, make it certain that I cannot and will not support my party's nominee for President regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party.
It is absolutely essential that we are guided by a commander-in-chief with a responsible and proper temperament, discretion and judgment. Our President must be fit to command the most powerful military the world has ever seen, including an arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons. After much consideration, I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world.”