- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2016

Donald Trump built bridges to House Republicans on Thursday in a closed-door meeting that Speaker Paul D. Ryan described as “great” — but the billionaire businessman ran into trouble with Senate Republicans by exchanging pointed words with some of his critics who have refused to endorse him.

Mr. Trump also held a personal meeting with Sen. Ted Cruz, his chief rival from the Republican presidential primaries, and they appeared to mend fences. While no endorsement was forthcoming, Mr. Cruz said he would speak at the convention and would offer policy advice to Mr. Trump.

The various meetings were held less than two weeks before the convention, where party leaders are counting on a show of unity. They hope Mr. Trump and Republican members of Congress can find enough common ground to overcome simmering disputes on issues and style.

“We had a very good exchange on just lots of ideas and lots of policy issues,” Mr. Ryan told reporters after he and about 200 other House Republicans hosted Mr. Trump at the Capitol Hill Club.

The unity was less apparent in a later meeting with Senate Republicans, though, when Mr. Trump and Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona engaged in a spat.

Mr. Flake said he wanted to support Mr. Trump but was troubled by the presumptive nominee’s comments about Mexicans. Mr. Trump countered that he might have to take on Mr. Flake and predicted the senator would lose his seat this fall unless he got in line.

Mr. Flake then reminded Mr. Trump that he is not up for re-election.

First reported by The Washington Post, Mr. Flake’s office verified the exchange.

News reports also said Mr. Trump took aim at Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who have sounded the alarm over his candidacy.

“Mr. Sasse continues to believe that our country is in a bad place and, with these two candidates, this election remains a dumpster fire,” said James Wegmann, a Sasse spokesman. “Nothing has changed.”

But Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, said the drama from the meeting was overblown and called reports of tension “wholly inaccurate.”

“The conversation was very positive and substantive,” he said in a statement. “The Members were in total agreement with Mr. Trump of the need to unite the Party and work together to win the Presidency and keep a Republican Congress.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a top Trump ally in Congress, described the episode with Mr. Flake as an “exchange between two serious people about politics.”

“If you can’t do that, you are not having a very good meeting,” Mr. Sessions said.
Sen. David Perdue of Georgia said the meeting went a long way toward alleviating fears about Mr. Trump’s ability to reconcile his “bombastic nature” and his more subdued side presented in private.

“This was not just a feel-good meeting, but it ended up where a lot of people were more confident coming out of there that we’ve got a candidate we can go to war with and we can win,” said Mr. Perdue.

Lawmakers, many of whom will appear on ballots with Mr. Trump in November, prodded him on his tone and questioned whether he could build an electoral coalition that can compete in swing states.

In his meeting with House Republicans, he reviewed his plans to reshape the tax code, reduce federal regulations and scrap Obamacare, and blamed the press for twisting his recent comments in which he praised Saddam Hussein for killing terrorists.

He cast himself as a free trader but said he believes the U.S. has made terrible deals and warned that China has taken a one-sided approach to trade that has hurt the nation. He stressed his support for legal immigration and opposition to illegal immigration.

He also vowed to put traditionally blue states — including Washington, Oregon and Connecticut — into play for Republicans.

Rep. Peter T. King of New York said Mr. Trump called him out in a playful fashion for not supporting him in the past. Others said Mr. Trump praised Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Mr. Ryan.

Mr. Trump fielded questions, including one from Rep. Cresent Hardy of Nevada, who wondered how Mr. Trump would connect with minorities — especially the Hispanic voters who play an outsized role in Nevada. The presumptive presidential nominee told Mr. Hardy that polls show him running strong in Nevada.

Mr. Trump’s vow to nominate constitutionalists to the Supreme Court played well with House Republicans.

“If there was one issue that seemed to unite everyone, it was Hillary Clinton and the Supreme Court,” said Mr. King, signaling he is warming to Mr. Trump.

Rep. Tom Price of Georgia said Mr. Trump delivered a “unifying speech” and that lawmakers were receptive to his message “of getting the Supreme Court to be one that is more reflective of the values of the country.”

Some lawmakers said Mr. Trump must move beyond platitudes and fill out his policy positions in order to win their support.

“I have been expressing my concerns about the many incendiary comments, the lack of policy specificity,” said Rep. Charles W. Dent of Pennsylvania. “The few policies we have heard have often been contradictory or conflicting, so those have been my concerns walking into the meeting and they are still my concerns now.”

Mr. Trump was joined by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. He was met by protesters who labeled him as a “sexist,” a “fraud” and “anti-gay.”

“Had great meetings with Republicans in the House and Senate,” Mr. Trump tweeted after the meetings. “Very interesting day! These are people who love our country!”

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