Trump news gets chilly reception from returning GOP senators
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Faced with the reality that Donald Trump is now the face of their party, Republican senators appeared squeamish as they returned to the Capitol on Monday for the first time since the billionaire became the presumptive nominee of the Republican party.
It’s been a little less than a week since Trump effectively secured the nomination following a decisive win in Indiana’s Republican primary, but his relationships among lawmakers and leaders of his own party remain rocky at best. Former presidents and nominees and other top leaders have repeatedly said they are skipping the convention where he is expected to receive the nomination.
Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho said, “I’m not giving any interviews about this presidential race.” Sen. Jerry Moran, of Kansas, ducked into an elevator apparently avoiding questions about Trump, and other Republicans were apprehensive, saying they needed more time.
“I haven’t met him yet, so I want to get to talk to him about some issues,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.
And others have said they would not accept a spot as his running mate. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement Monday that he is ruling out a run with Trump.
However Trump’s chief emissary to the Senate, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, said it would be “an honor” to serve as Trump’s vice president.
Sessions said Monday he was setting up meetings between Trump and his Senate Republican colleagues. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office said Monday that Trump would be meeting with Republican leadership Thursday on Capitol Hill.
GOP Senators acknowledged the transition the party needed to make to come together after the long and raucous primary season. But Sen. Roger Wicker, who heads the party’s campaign committee, downplayed the rift between Ryan and others in his party, telling reporters, “I’m pretty relaxed about it.”
Senate Republican leaders and party veterans have been trying to heal deep wounds in the party, inflicted over an almost-yearlong primary filled with personal insults and stunning attacks. McConnell last week urged other Republicans to get behind Trump and focus on defeating Hillary Clinton.
“Look, I’m impressed with the guy as a business leader, I’m impressed with him as a guy who fought his way through this process,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican. “And he did it without kissing anybody’s behind, which is why I think so many people are supportive of him.”
Ryan’s statement that it would take time for him to warm to Trump riled the political world through the beginning of this week, but Sen. John Thune, the Senate’s third-ranking Republican, said he felt that everyone would eventually come together — eventually.
“Well, I think in the end it’s going to be important for our leadership to unify as a team going into the fall election,” Thune said. “I know (Ryan) like others have some pretty strongly held views that contradict what (positions) our presumptive nominee is taking. But that being said, he’s the leader of the House and I hope eventually he and all leadership can come around to the point that we have a unified team going into the fall.”
Senate Republicans who are facing tough re-election bids have had a tight line to walk, in particular. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who had been mentioned as a potential running mate, said his campaign has taken “extraordinary steps” because of the uncertainty on the top of the ticket.
While he does have concerns with some of the controversial comments Trump has made — such as about women and a ban on Muslims — he doesn’t think his voters will confuse him with Trump.
He also said the turnout during his Senate primary was “huge” perhaps because of the enthusiasm Trump generated.
“I got more votes than Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders combined,” Portman said. “I got 82 plus percent of the vote from all those Trump people showing up. So they didn’t come and not vote for me.”
Senate Republican leaders have at times urged their members facing tough re-election battles to run races that avoid Trump, and set up their own identities. This has led many Republicans to say they will not attend the convention in July.
Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said he wasn’t attending the convention, even though he’s not up for re-election this year.
“There’s just, ah, no reason to be there,” he said. “Lots to do at home.”