House Republicans came face-to-face Thursday morning for the first time with Donald Trump. And most seemed to like what they saw.
With Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus in attendance, the billionaire real estate tycoon met with the full House GOP conference at RNC headquarters. Rank-and-file Republicans are trying to suppress their displeasure with his controversial campaign and rally behind Trump before the GOP convention this month.
GOP sources say there was a “full house” for the meeting, with at least 200 lawmakers attending. Conservative CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow introduced Trump.
A mostly restrained, deferential Trump hit on a number of safe Republican themes during his speech: tax reform, protecting the 2nd Amendment, repealing Obamacare, and the likelihood the next president will determine the balance of power on the Supreme Court. He preached unity and bashed both Hillary and Bill Clinton. Trump referred to Bill Clinton’s meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch just as the Justice Department was winding down its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practice as “Tarmac-gate,” adding that it shows the Clintons’ “poor judgment.” And he seemed willing to work with rank-and-file Republicans on their policy agenda.
Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has clashed openly with Trump on several issues, even joked about their differences in opinion.
Yet Trump also strayed into an area that Republicans didn’t like, raising the issue of his public praise for the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for killing terrorists. Trump blamed the media for taking his remarks out of context, and he warned the lawmakers to be careful in speaking to reporters, which made some of the lawmakers in attendance laugh.
Trump was also asked about his comments raising concerns about a federal judge overseeing the Trump University lawsuit case. Trump responded that “The Hispanics love me!”
Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), a Trump backer, said the session helped the House GOP Conference begin to unite, and he predicted more lawmakers would go public in their support for the presumptive nominee.
“We realize not everybody got their candidate. And we realize it’s slow wounds to heal. But I think it’s healing,” DesJarlais said. “By the convention, you will see a big uptick for Trump.”
Party leaders offered praised for Trump following the members-only session.
GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) released a statement calling the meeting “a productive opportunity for Mr. Trump and House Republicans to unify around their shared goal for November: bringing new leadership to the White House and doing all we can to defeat Hillary Clinton.
She said Trump took questions from about 20 lawmakers over roughly 40 minutes. “For many, it was their first introduction, and it was a positive step toward winning in the fall,” McMorris Rodgers said. source