Donald Trump's running mate and closest ally Mike Pence has slammed Trump's comments on groping women. With outrage mounting against Trump, the ex-reality TV star said there was "zero chance" of him quitting the race.
Pence, who is the Republican candidate for vice president, said on Saturday he "cannot defend" Trump's vulgar remarks caught in a 2005 video.
"As a husband and a father, I was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump," he said in a statement.
"I am grateful that he has expressed remorse and apologized to the American people. We pray for his family and look forward to the opportunity he has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation tomorrow night," Pence added, referring to the second presidential debate scheduled for Sunday.
Trump refuses to quit
Ahead of the Saturday statement, Pence has largely managed to present a united front with his controversial running mate. He also appeared hesitant to condemn Trump as the story broke on the previous day.
Instead, Pence defended Trump's refusal to "tiptoe around those thousands of rules of political correctness," and ignored several questions about Trump's behavior while campaigning in Ohio.
By distancing himself from Trump, however, Pence joins a growing number of high-ranking Republicans who publicly decried the controversial statement. Several of them have called for Trump to bow out, possibly opening the way for Pence to lead the Republican ballot, including Trump's primary rival Carly Fiorina.
Trump rejected the calls, telling the Wall Street Journal there was "zero chance" for him to drop out.
"I never, ever give up," he told the paper, predicting that the controversy would blow over.
"The support I'm getting is unbelievable, because Hillary Clinton is a horribly flawed candidate," he added.
'Locker room banter'
The Republican candidate also pointed a finger to his opponent while apologizing for his 2005 remarks, accusing Bill Clinton of "actually abusing women" and claiming that the president's wife "bullied, attacked, shamed, and intimidated his victims."
He also dismissed the controversial video as a bit of "locker room banter" from many years ago.
"Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course - not even close," he said in a separate statement.
In the wake of the controversy, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan disinvited Trump from a campaign event in Wisconsin. Mike Pence declined to speak instead of his running mate. A unamed source cited by the AP news agency said that Pence was "beside himself" over the latest scandal.
Trump's wife Melania, who married the billionaire only months before the video was recorded, urged the public to accept his apology.
"The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me. This does not represent the man that I know," she said in a statement. At the same time, she defended her husband, saying he had "the heart and mind of a leader."
"I hope people will accept his apology, as I have, and focus on the important issues facing our nation and the world."
dj/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)