Trump attempts to reassure skittish GOP lawmakers

Erica Werner
Associated Press

Washington — A defiant Donald Trump tried to assure skittish GOP lawmakers Thursday that they all share the same Republican Party goals, but Senate antagonists withheld support after a tense meeting with the presidential candidate.

The New York billionaire repeatedly called for unity in his second Capitol Hill tour in three months, but he also threatened would-be party critics on a day that was designed to rally anxious Republicans behind him. Trump ignored fresh concern about a campaign tweet widely condemned as anti-Semitic, according to Republicans who attended closed-door meetings.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake declined to address reports that Trump threatened to attack him politically during a testy exchange that Sen. John McCain said “everybody was talking about” afterward.

“I’ll just leave it,” Flake told reporters. “My position remains, I want to support the nomination. I really do. I just can’t support him given the things that he’s said.”

Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who wasn’t in Thursday’s meeting, fired back at Trump, who reportedly called him a loser during the private gathering.

“We haven’t seen a personality like his too much in the Midwest. Eastern, privileged, wealthy bully,” said Kirk, who faces a tough re-election contest and has declined to endorse Trump.

Many of Michigan’s nine Republican House members including U.S. Reps. Candice Miller of Harrison Townhip and John Moolenaar of Midland attended the session with Trump.

The office of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said he did not attend because of a conflict. Upton has said he will not be endorsing in the presidential race.

“I appreciate Mr. Trump coming to speak to the GOP Conference,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, the Zeeland Republican who has withheld his endorsement. “It is important for the presumptive nominee to have a constructive relationship with Congress.”

There was a more cooperative tone inside Trump’s meeting with House Republicans, even if skeptical lawmakers didn’t necessarily hear what they were hoping for.

“There was no talk of pivoting. There was no talk of changing his style or anything like that,” said Rep. Peter King of New York. “I think you have to expect that you’re going to get Donald Trump. But he showed today that he could be Donald Trump and still work with Republicans.”

U.S. Rep. David Trott, R-Birmingham, attended the meeting and thought it was helpful.

"He thought it was a productive conversation about how Congress can work with the presidential nominee and get the country back on track," Trott spokesman Kyle Bonini said.

Trump’s unwillingness to moderate his tone follows repeated promises from campaign officials that he would do just that as he shifts toward the general election. While Election Day nationwide is Nov. 8, early voting begins in some states in September.

The Republican Party remains deeply divided with its national convention less than two weeks away.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch does plan to attend, but he shared his concerns about Trump’s campaign.

“I hope he will focus less on personality and divisive rhetoric and more on policies and a capacity to govern effectively,” Hatch said after the Senate meeting.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a Trump critic, was less polite: “This election remains a dumpster fire. Nothing has changed,” Sasse spokesman James Wegmann said.

Trump also emphasized his plan to repeal President Barack Obama’s health law, reduce regulatory burdens, overhaul tax laws and remake the Supreme Court as “one that is more reflective of the values of the country,” according to Rep. Tom Price of Georgia.

Detroit News Staff Writer

Keith Laing contributed.