Donald Trump faced a tough crowd when he met Republicans in Congress on Thursday but several lawmakers, including past critics, emerged from the closed-door meeting with encouraging words about their presumptive White House nominee.
Republican aides cited good attendance from both houses of Congress at the two meetings, although some lawmakers made a point of staying away, citing previous commitments. Trump drew 41 of 54 Republican senators to the U.S. Senate meeting.
At the first meeting, with members of the House of Representatives, Trump shared a hug with House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican who has often criticized Trump even while endorsing him, lawmakers said.
They joked a bit about some of their past exchanges during an hour-long meeting, and Trump took questions.
Representative Bill Flores said Trump told lawmakers there had been a few times when “I said this, and Paul had to react this way. And I understand it, I get it.” Flores quoted Trump as saying: “I’m going to make you proud.”
Trump won grassroots support during months of state-by-state nominating contests with a pledge to ban Muslims temporarily from entering the United States and to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. He has managed to annoy party leaders with inflammatory remarks to this day.
One of the questions for Trump came from Representative Cresent Hardy, a freshman from Nevada who asked whether Trump could help win the votes of minorities, including Hispanics, in his state.
Hardy said he was satisfied with Trump’s response. “He thinks he has the ability,” Hardy said. He said Trump said “polls are showing he’s doing well in the state of Nevada.”
Flores, a Texan who heads the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative grouping in Congress, had also criticized Trump, including for having questioned a U.S. judge’s motives because of his Mexican ethnicity. Flores had said he wanted to see “more vision and less trash talk” from the presumptive nominee.
After Thursday’s session, Flores said he felt better about Trump. “Based on what I have heard today, I’ve got the confidence that you are going to see a lot more in terms of visionary messaging,” Flores said.
New York Representative Peter King, a past critic of Trump, had previously called the wealthy businessman a “gamble” at the top of the Republican ticket in the Nov. 8 general election.
“Today was extremely positive,” King told reporters after the House summit two blocks from the Capitol. “There was not one negative moment. There was no awkward moment.”
TENSIONS AT SENATORS’ MEETING
There were some reports of tension in Trump’s meeting with Republican senators. Trump admonished three of them who had been critical of his candidacy and predicted they would lose their Senate races on Election Day, The Washington Post said, citing Republican officials.
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said the issue of Trump’s tone came up. “Frankly from my perspective I think we’ve been making progress in the right direction. I think you’re seeing the process of unification start,” Scott said.
But not everyone was won over. “I need to be persuaded,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania. He said he would not support either Trump or the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Like some other leading Republicans, Dent said he would skip the Republican nominating convention in Cleveland starting on July 18.
“I’ve been concerned about the incendiary comments (by Trump) and the lack of policy specificity. That’s where I’ve been, that’s where I continue to be. I’m not planning on attending the convention,” Dent told reporters.
Dent did not appear to be impressed with Trump’s response to questions about how he would appeal to Hispanics. “He said Hispanics love him,” Dent said.
Trump was last on the Hill in May, to meet Republican leaders. Since then, many Republican lawmakers have endorsed Trump, but others have not endorsed anyone, while comments from the Republican leadership about Trump have been mixed.
Ryan, who earlier this week slammed Trump’s Twitter post depicting Clinton against a backdrop of cash and a Star of David, said in a statement that Thursday’s meeting with the candidate was “great.”
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Kouichi Shirayanagi; Editing by Howard Goller)