Trump offers assurances to GOP rank-and-file in Congress
Donald Trump offered assurances to skeptical GOP lawmakers Thursday that they all share the same Republican Party goals, but his first appearance before rank-and-file lawmakers failed to soothe concerns about his undisciplined campaign.
Trump's message to a packed room at the Republican National Committee building was, "We all need to stick together. Things will all work out in November," according to Rep. Ken Calvert of California.
Trump supporters who were present said they welcomed the reassurance. For others, it wasn't enough, as lawmakers who have been wary of Trump's candidacy said they remain skeptical.
"I said before the meeting that Donald Trump has a lot of work to persuade many Americans, including myself, that he is able to lead this great country," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. "I still need to be persuaded."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an outspoken Trump critic, said there was a lack of energy in the room. "You could feel it," he said.
"I'm not a Never Trump guy, I've said I want to get there. I'm a Republican and I want to support the nominee," Kinzinger said after leaving the meeting early. "But things like the Saddam Hussein comment are not helping me get there," Kinzinger added. He was referring to Trump having praised the late Iraqi dictator's terrorist-killing prowess.
Trump defended himself over those comments Thursday, telling lawmakers it was an example of the media twisting his words, according to Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, a strong Trump supporter.
Cramer paraphrased what Trump said: "Here I was very critical of Saddam Hussein, saying he's a very very bad guy, evil guy. And I wake up and I look at the media and they say I love Saddam Hussein."
Trump arrived with his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to meet behind closed doors with House Republicans, his first such meeting with the full House GOP conference. Dozens of protesters awaited him, shouting slogans and waving signs that said Trump was "Dangerous, Divisive, Deceitful." Protesters chanted "Donald Trump, he's a fraud. Sending our jobs far abroad." They held up large photos of GOP lawmakers, including vulnerable senators, wearing Trump hats.
Ensuring an overheated atmosphere on Capitol Hill, FBI Director James Comey was to testify before a House committee at the same time as the Senate meeting with Trump. Comey was summoned by House Republicans who are irate over his recommendation against criminal charges for Clinton's classified email handling.
Inside the meeting with GOP lawmakers, Trump offered some what they wanted to hear. He talked of repealing President Obama's health law, reducing regulatory burdens, overhauling tax laws and getting the Supreme Court to "be one that is more reflective of the values of the country," according to Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.
Trump delivered a "great unifying speech," Price said, and his listeners were "very receptive."
But others sounded unimpressed.
Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina called the meeting "a necessary check in the box." He said that his concerns about Trump are "Tone and tenor. I like a lot of what he says, but not how he says it."
Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois said the meeting was "kind of the same."
"He talked about how much he was able to raise in the last month, I guess. And how it's important to get united," Shimkus said. "No new information."
Trump was to meet later in the morning with Republican senators. The gatherings came less than two weeks before the GOP's national convention, which a number of leading Republicans are skipping, including some in Congress. A number of lawmakers also planned to skip Thursday's meetings.
Trump's appearance came on the heels of a fiery speech in which he defended his retweet, in a criticism of Clinton, of a star symbol many saw as a Star of David, an image that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and others have criticized.
Instead of focusing on Clinton during his remarks Wednesday in Cincinnati, as Republican leaders would have liked, Trump mixed his attacks on the presumptive Democratic nominee with a defense of the tweet as well as earlier remarks complimenting Hussein. Trump argues the star in his tweet was a regular star that a sheriff might use.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, in a tough re-election race, told reporters she had to attend a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing at the same time as Trump's appearance. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida said he needed to check his calendar. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he was scheduled to preside over the Senate but that others would benefit more anyway from seeing Trump.
"Obviously I'm very familiar with Donald and his positions; I just came off an 11-month campaign where he was one of my opponents," said Rubio, a former GOP rival often mocked by Trump as "Little Marco." ''So some of the other folks perhaps wanted to spend more time learning more about his positions."
The meetings come as two potential vice presidential picks — Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Joni Ernst of Iowa — indicated that they weren't interested in running on the same ticket as Trump.
The meetings were taking place at the political headquarters of the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, within blocks of the Capitol.
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