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Sen. Mike Lee huddled privately with Donald Trump's running mate Tuesday, telling Gov. Mike Pence that Republicans should call the racism of people such as white supremacist David Duke "deplorable."
Lee, R-Utah, has refused to endorse Trump, citing his vague policy positions and his call for a temporary ban on Muslims.
He's now jumping into a controversy kicked off by Hillary Clinton's claim that half of Trump's supporters are in a "basket of deplorables," which she said included racists and sexists.
During an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Pence refused to call David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, "deplorable."
Pence spent 15 minutes with Lee at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters, where the topic came up, though Lee wasn't asking for Pence to criticize any individual.
"Lee emphasized that Republicans must identify David Duke's racism as deplorable, acknowledging that he ordinarily uses terms like 'deplorable' to describe messages, ideas, actions, and organizations, but not people," said Conn Carroll, the senator's spokesman. "This, Lee explained, is consistent with his belief as a Christian that even people who do bad things are redeemable. Lee also encouraged the Trump campaign to be explicit in its denunciation of the alt-right movement."
The alt-right movement is tied to white nationalists, and Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr., have more than once retweeted messages from members of this group.
Pence, in a news conference following a meeting with a group of House Republicans, denounced Duke, who is now running for a Senate seat in Louisiana.
"Donald Trump and I have denounced David Duke repeatedly," he said. "But I'm also not going to validate the language Hillary Clinton used to describe the American people."
Pence appeared at a policy summit hosted by Lee in Salt Lake City earlier this month and then attended a fundraiser hosted by many of Utah's leading Republicans, including Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Lee has kept the Trump campaign at arms length, as has Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, who also hasn't endorsed Trump.