After Trump Meeting, Republicans Project Image of Unity

  • Lawmakers say presumptive nominee received warm welcome
  • Trump questioned by lawmaker about outreach to minorities

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives at RNC headquarters for a meeting with House Republicans on July 7, 2016, in Washington.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Republicans in Congress met with Donald Trump on Thursday and many came away saying he can unify their party for the November election, though some House and Senate members stayed away from the two high-profile summits.

Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan joked about their differences during the private meeting with House Republicans in Washington, said Representative Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee. He met with Senate party members shortly afterward.

"He basically said, ‘I am not going to let you down,’" said Representative Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania.

"It was a great unifying speech," said Representative Tom Price of Georgia, who said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee spoke about issues party members agree on, such as their long-stated desire to repeal Obamacare.

Still, Representative Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, who isn’t backing Trump, said the meeting didn’t change his position and that the response from fellow Republicans was "muted." He said about 200 House Republicans attended.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, an outspoken Trump critic, "went to today’s meeting ready to listen,” his spokesman, James Wegmann, said in an e-mail.

‘Dumpster Fire’

“Senator Sasse introduced himself to Mr. Trump and the two had a gracious exchange,” Wegmann said. “Mr. Sasse continues to believe that our country is in a bad place and, with these two candidates, this election remains a dumpster fire. Nothing has changed.”

The meetings near the Capitol were Trump’s first sit-down with the full House Republican and Senate conferences. Trump is hoping to unify the party ahead of its convention in Cleveland and working to choose a running mate from a shrinking field of experienced Republicans willing to join the ticket.

Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn said that during the second meeting, "people were candid about some of the reasons for concern in terms of tone and style, but I think Mr. Trump makes an interesting point that he generate a lot of enthusiasm and tapped into something that no Republican nominee for president has done before."

“I think there were some encouraging signs that he’s learning from his experience,” Cornyn of Texas said.

‘Good Meeting’

Forty-one of the 54 Republican senators attended the second meeting, said Don Stewart, spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. McConnell called the session a "good meeting, good discussion, very good attendance."

"It wasn’t a deposition, it was more like a family reunion where you don’t know all your cousins," said Representative Joe Barton of Texas, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. "We need him to win."

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said in a statement that he is encouraging Trump to make "critical adjustments to emerge as a successful general election candidate."

"Trump needs to offer an inclusive and attractive vision of how best to bring about broadly shared prosperity at home and security in a dangerous world,” Hatch said. “I hope he will focus less on personality and divisive rhetoric."

‘Long-Standing Appointment’

One lawmaker who said he wasn’t planning to attend was House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, who a day earlier cited a "long-standing appointment."

Ryan, who waited several weeks before deciding to endorse Trump, has acknowledged that the real-estate mogul "clearly says and does things I don’t agree with."

This week alone, Ryan has been prompted to publicly respond to Trump’s praise for Saddam Hussein by clarifying the Iraqi strongman was "evil," and also said the New York billionaire’s campaign must "clean up" its social media operation on the heels of a tweet with an apparently anti-Semitic image.

Trump drew criticism this week for saying about Saddam: "You know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good."

Blaming Media

Trump told lawmakers Thursday that the media twisted what he said about Saddam, DesJarlais said. Representative Ralph Abraham of Louisiana said, "He does know Saddam was a terrible man, he stated that."

The toughest question during the House session, according to Representative Bill Flores of Texas, came from Nevada’s Cresent Hardy, who asked how Trump was going to do better with minority voters, including Hispanics, in swing states like his.

"I got it. I understand," Flores said Trump responded. Trump also said he will keep focused on the race and that polls show he is doing well in Hardy’s state.

Trump did help win over a few lawmakers with his visit. 

"I was one of Trump’s most vociferous opponents and I’m now one of his most committed supporters," Representative Trent Franks of Arizona said after the meeting.

‘Going to Beat’ Clinton

"I thought it was a great meeting. It was fantastic," said Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who said it was his first time hearing Trump in person. "I walked out of there saying this guy’s going to beat Hillary Clinton. That’s the beginning of the end of Hillary."

Ryan introduced the party’s presumptive nominee.

"Speaker Ryan talked about how important it was to elect Donald Trump our next president," said Representative Chris Collins of New York. "Heads were bobbing up and down" in agreement, he added.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, told reporters, "Republicans made clear what we’ve been saying all along: There’s not a dime’s bit of difference" between Trump and House Republicans.

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