Trump’s Charm Offensive Impresses Senate GOP

Presumptive nominee also reaches out to key critic, Lindsey Graham

Donald Trump met with House and Senate Republican leaders on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Donald Trump met with House and Senate Republican leaders on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 12, 2016 at 5:20pm

Positive and productive — that’s how Senate Republican leaders described their meeting on Thursday with their party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump.  

Trump met with top Senate Republicans for more than an hour, and discussed the tone of his campaign and his effect on the GOP’s competitive Senate races.  

Before the meeting, Trump reached out to one of his most vocal critics with a phone call Wednesday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said he still won’t endorse Trump for president, but the South Carolina Republican said the two had a good phone call .

“We had a very cordial, funny conservation. He has a great sense of humor,” Graham said. “He’s from New York. He obviously can take a punch.”

“He wanted to pick my brain about national security. I was glad to talk with him about that,” Graham said. “I wished him well.”

“At the end of the day, I’m not going to be able to support Mr. Trump, but I appreciate that he did reach out,” Graham told reporters.

Recap: Trump’s Day on Capitol Hill

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The billionaire mogul asked good questions during their conversation, Graham said. Topics discussed included the development of ISIS and the Obama administration’s handling of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“It was just my rendition of me giving my advice of where I think Obama’s gone wrong,” Graham said.

The phone call with Graham was part of Trump’s broader outreach to unify the divided GOP as the party’s presidential primary season draws to a close. Though Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin was not ready to endorse Trump after meeting with him Thursday morning, he said their discussions were moving in a “positive direction.”

[Related: Ryan, Trump Shock With Good Vibes]

Protesters and the media swarmed outside the Republican National Committee offices, the site of Ryan’s meeting with Trump, but the scene was fairly quieter a few blocks north at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, where Trump met with Senate Republican leadership.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who offered a tepid endorsement after the Manhattan businessman became the presumptive nominee last week, described Thursday’s meeting as “very good, constructive.”

Sen. John Cornyn, the majority whip and second highest ranking Republican, said Trump was very personable.

[Related: Trump, Ryan Cite ‘Common Ground’ After Meeting]

“We were interested in obviously seeing him in a relatively controlled setting as opposed to in front of 30,000 people,” Cornyn told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Roy Blunt of Missouri had both said they planned to discuss Trump’s tone at the meeting, and Cornyn said the topic did come up.

“I think he listened,” Cornyn said. “Obviously he’s never run for public office before so this is new for him and for us.”

Cornyn said he specifically brought up Trump’s tone when talking about illegal immigration. As a senator from a border state, Cornyn offered some advice.

“I talked a little about the reports of the Hispanic vote and the whole idea of distinguishing between illegal immigration and legal immigration,” Cornyn said. “And the part I did talk about was respect that people expect and deserve when you’re talking about a very emotional issue. He listened and I thought it was very positive.”

Cornyn also said they also discussed Trump’s effect on down-ballot Senate races. The GOP is hoping to hold onto its majority in the Senate, where it is defending 24 seats this year, including seven in states that President Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012.

Vulnerable Republican senators have been walking a fine line between supporting their party’s presumptive nominee, and still distancing themselves from some of Trump’s more controversial statements.

[Related: What’s a Vulnerable Republican To Do?]

NRSC Chairman Roger Wicker of Mississippi also attended the meeting, which he described as “very positive and productive.” Cornyn said they discussed areas where Trump could be useful in Senate campaigns.  

“He recognized the impact of the presidential candidate on down ballot races and said he looked forward to being helpful where he could,” said Cornyn, pointing to Ohio as an example. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was also in the Trump meeting, as he is one of McConnell’s four counsels. Another counsel, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who has been critical of Trump , did not attend.  

“I think as this thing develops we’re going to be trying to figure out where it makes sense and where it doesn’t,” Cornyn said of Trump’s role in Senate campaigns. “He also understands in some places people may choose to run independently and not join up with the presidential ballot.”  

Trump’s presence near Capitol Hill did not go unnoticed by Senate Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took to the Senate floor to disparage Senate Republicans for backing Trump.   

[Related: Reid: Does McConnell Agree With Trump That ‘Women are Dogs and Pigs’?]
New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer who is expected to succeed Reid after the Nevada Democrat retires this year, also held a news conference where he said that Senate Republicans have been governing from the “Trump textbook” for some time.  

“On policy, Donald Trump and Republicans are singing from the same hymnal,” Schumer said.   

Schumer said the ongoing primary contest between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders, of Vermont does not indicate deep divisions in his party.  

“We don’t have the problems that the Republicans have. When Hillary wins the nomination I believe everybody will endorse her and we won’t have the kind of summit meeting that they had to have at all,” Schumer said. “We are much closer on the issues, and we’re much closer as a party than they are.”

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