Donald Trump offers assurances to leading Republicans
Published 07/07/2016 | 17:46
Donald Trump has tried to assure Republican Congress members that he shares their party's goals.
But the billionaire businessman's first appearance before the party's rank-and-file failed to soothe some deep concerns about his undisciplined presidential campaign.
Protesters chanted in sweltering heat outside, while inside a packed room at the Republican National Committee, Mr Trump urged his fellow Republicans to come together in order to defeat Hillary Clinton in November.
Some welcomed Mr Trump's reassurances but others who have been wary of the reality TV star's incendiary comments and off-putting campaign style said they remain unconvinced.
Pennsylvania congressman Charlie Dent said: "I said before the meeting that Donald Trump has a lot of work to persuade many Americans, including myself, that he is able to lead this great country. I still need to be persuaded."
Mr Trump's appearance came on a circus-like day on Capitol Hill, with FBI director James Comey giving evidence to a House committee about Mrs Clinton's email practices, summoned by Republican members furious about his decision that she should not face criminal charges.
Dozens of protesters awaited Mr Trump, shouting slogans and waving signs that said labelled him "Dangerous, Divisive, Deceitful". Protesters chanted, "Donald Trump, he's a fraud. Sending our jobs far abroad".
They held up large photos of Republicans, including vulnerable senators, wearing Trump campaign hats, as the billionaire arrived with his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Illinois congressman Adam Kinzinger, an outspoken critic of Mr Trump, said there was a lack of energy in the room.
He said: "I'm not a Never Trump guy, I've said I want to get there. I'm a Republican and I want to support the nominee. But things like the Saddam Hussein comment are not helping me get there."
He was referring to Mr Trump having praised the late Iraqi dictator's terrorist-killing prowess. Mr Trump defended himself over those comments, saying it was an example of the media twisting his words.
North Dakota congressman Kevin Cramer, a loyal Trump supporter, said: "Here I was very critical of Saddam Hussein, saying he's a very, very bad guy, evil guy. And I wake up and I look at the media and they say I love Saddam Hussein."
House speaker Paul Ryan said Mr Trump sought to put the Saddam comment "into context, so people understood the context in which he was speaking about getting tough on terrorism".
Mr Trump offered some what they wanted to hear. He talked of repealing US President Barack Obama's health law, reducing regulatory burdens, overhauling tax laws and getting the US Supreme Court to "be one that is more reflective of the values of the country," according to Georgia congressman Tom Price.
He said Mr Trump delivered a "great unifying speech" and his listeners were "very receptive".
Mr Ryan told reporters: "We clearly have a presumptive nominee who wants to work with us on moving this agenda forward."
But others sounded unimpressed.
South Carolina congressman Mark Sanford called the meeting "a necessary check in the box". He said his concerns about Mr Trump are "tone and tenor".
Mr Sandford said: "I like a lot of what he says, but not how he says it."
The gatherings came less than two weeks before the Republicans' national convention, which a number of leading members, including some in Congress, are missing.
A number of members also planned to miss Thursday's meetings. Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, in a tough re-election race, told reporters she had to attend a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing instead, while Florida senator Marco Rubio said he was scheduled to preside over the Senate.
It came on the heels of a fiery speech by Mr Trump on Wednesday night in which he defended his retweet of the image of a six-pointed star alongside a picture of Mrs Clinton on a field of hundred dollar bills.
Many saw the symbol as a Star of David and considered the image to be anti-Semitic, and Mr Ryan and others criticised the retweet.
Instead of focusing on Mrs Clinton during his remarks on Wednesday in Cincinnati, as Republican leaders would have liked, Mr Trump mixed his attacks on the presumptive Democratic nominee with a defence of the tweet as well as earlier remarks complimenting Saddam. Mr Trump argued that the star in his tweet was a star that a sheriff might use.
The meetings come as two potential vice presidential picks - senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Joni Ernst of Iowa - indicated that they were not interested in running on the same ticket as Mr Trump.
Democrats sough to capitalise on Mr Trump's appearance on the Hill. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a pair of adverts linking Republican Congress members to Mr Trump.