Donald 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. | Getty
House Republicans came face-to-face Thursday morning for the first time with Donald J. Trump. And most seemed to like what they saw.
The billionaire real estate tycoon met with the full House GOP conference at Republican National Committee headquarters, as Republicans try 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.
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 practices.
Yet Trump also strayed into an area that Republicans didn’t like, once again praised late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for killing terrorists.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said he’s still not convinced to support Trump, at least not yet.
“There was a lack of enthusiasm, you could feel it,” Kinzinger said. Asked to describe the meeting, Kinzinger said it was “typical Donald Trump.”
Kinzinger also said Trump brought up Saddam Hussein up on his own: “It was awkward. It was really awkward.”
A number of members planned to skip the gathering, telling POLITICO they had prior engagements — a doctor’s appointment, a breakfast meeting, committee hearings — that prevented them from seeing their presumptive nominee in person.
“It’s going to be more of an introductory meeting for members who are not on board or who are not yet there,” Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), a Trump supporter, said beforehand. “So I’m expecting people to walk away with a much different opinion than they had. They will see a man more business-like, more boardroom-like. A Donald Trump that wants to hear people’s opinions and no so much what they see on TV. It’s a ‘get to know me’ session.”
But after a bizarre Wednesday evening speech — Trump defended at length his use of a Star of David in a Twitter post attacking Hillary Clinton, prompting claims of anti-Semitism from Democrats — he needed to reassure rank-and-file Republicans that he is not leading them to electoral disaster in November.
Trump met privately in early May with Speaker Paul Ryan and House GOP leaders at RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ request. The presumptive nominee wanted to defuse his tense standoff with Ryan; the two differ on everything from policy priorities to style.
Trump on Thursday was be among friends and foes. Among those welcoming him was Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, his top Capitol Hill surrogates who have gently nudged House Republicans to accepting Trump.
But others, including lawmakers on the far-right flank, believe Trump is less than a fully-committed conservative.
The House Freedom Caucus for months, for example, has been trying to get an audience with Trump to grill him on his conservative bona fides. But Trump has declined to meet with them, including during his current visit.
Republicans find themselves grappling with Trump’s policy stances on trade and immigration, which run counter to everything they stand for. Many dislike that he wants to close off economic borders with tariffs and they abhor the idea of a religious test for entering this country, such as Trump’s hugely controversial call for a ban on Muslim immigration.
More recently, House Republicans have found themselves at odds with their nominee on the issue of guns in the wake of the Orlando shooting.
Trump came out supporting a Democratic pitch to bar people on the “No fly” list from getting guns, only to backtrack after meeting with the National Rifle Association.
Despite the policy differences, however, House Republicans — and their like-minded companions around the nation — are realizing they need to unite, especially in light of Clinton’s ongoing problems surrounding her handling of classified material.