WASHINGTON (CN) – Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump was on Capitol Hill Thursday to meet with a party leadership that has struggled with his ascent.
Arriving shortly after 9 a.m. at the National Republican Congressional Committee headquarters down the street from the Capitol, Trump met for about an hour with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other members of House and party leadership.
Trump later met with GOP leaders in the Senate.
While Ryan declined to endorse Trump in the wake of the talks and acknowledged he still shares policy differences with the candidate, the Wisconsin Republican called the meeting a good first step towards unifying a party focused on defeating Hillary Clinton in the upcoming November elections.
“We will be having additional discussions but remain confident there’s a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall, and we’re totally committed to working together to achieve that goal,” Ryan and Trump said in a joint statement released shortly after the meeting.
Ryan later told reporters he and Trump discussed a wide range of policy issues, including the Constitution, abortion, and the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
“I was very encouraged with what I heard from Donald Trump today,” Ryan said. “I do believe that we are now planting the seeds to get ourselves unified, bridge the gaps and differences and so from here we are going to go deeper into the policy areas to see where that common ground is and how we can make sure that we are operating off of these same core principles.”
He downplayed his concerns about some of Trump’s policy positions, saying he did not always agree with Mitt Romney in 2012 when the two men ran together for the White House.
He also repeatedly emphasized he has not yet gotten to know Trump and that the process of unity will take time and effort.
“It was important that we discussed our differences that we have, but it was also important that we discussed the core principles that tie us all together,” Ryan said. “Principles like the Constitution and separation of powers. The fact that we have an executive that has gone way beyond the boundaries of the constitution and how it’s important we restore Article One of the Constitution.”
Ryan said his policy team will meet with Trump’s to iron out their differences. He also said he would be willing to chair the Republican National Convention in Cleveland if Trump asked him to do so.
“The question is, can we unify around our common principles to offer the country a compelling and clear choice and agenda going forward so that the men and women of this nation get a real and honest choice about how to fix the country and get us on a better track and I am very encouraged that we can put that together,” Ryan said.
Trump effectively clinched the Republican nomination last week when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich ended their bids after a crushing Trump victory in Indiana.
Even after Trump became the last man standing from a crowded Republican field, however, top party lawmakers have been reluctant to fall in line behind the brash New York businessman and reality television star.
Last week Ryan told CNN he was “not ready” to endorse Trump and Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush announced they would not attend the July convention. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did indicate he would back Trump as a means to prevent four more years of a Democrat in the White House.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters Thursday afternoon Trump was “affable” and that the meeting with Senate Republican leadership touched on issues from the border to energy security and fiscal policy.
As the representative of a state with a large Hispanic population, Cornyn said he offered ideas for how Trump could grow his appeal among Hispanic voters and found Trump “open and willing to listen.” Cornyn said he also offered some slight criticism of Trump’s tax plan, which has drawn widespread criticism as cutting federal revenue too drastically.
“I think they’ve got some work to do on the policy front, and they know that and that’s what they’re working on,” Cornyn said. “That’s fairly normal.”
While the Republicans who met with Trump have been positive about the talks, those outside of the meeting rooms have used the his day with lawmakers to criticize the party and its presumptive candidate.
While a horde of reporters and camera crews awaited Trump’s arrival on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, some 20 protestors crowded the sidewalks, voicing their displeasure.
Shortly before Trump arrived, young people marched down the sidewalk towards one entrance of the Republican Congressional Committee’s officers, carrying a banner for United We Dream, a youth-led immigration organization, and chanting “undocumented, not afraid.” The group condemned the candidate’s calls for mass deportations and what many have called his degradation of people of Hispanic descent.
A few feet away, Code Pink, an anti-war group that is a fixture on the Hill, held signs that read “Trump is a racist” and “Islamophobia is un-American,” a reference to Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Meanwhile, a man carrying a microphone and wearing an oversized paper mache model of Trump’s head shouted about Republican’s unwillingness to immediately disavow an endorsement from former KKK leader David Duke.
Trump waved to supporters upon his arrival, but appeared to ignore the protest he inspired. While the meetings were underway, the top Democrats in Congress took the opportunity to tie their colleagues to the controversial figure likely to carry the Republican nomination.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has used Trump’s unexpected success to hit Republican leadership for its unwillingness to hold a hearing on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and ratcheted up his criticism in a floor speech Thursday morning.
“Since Senator McConnell is so enthusiastically embracing Trump, you can only assume he agrees with Trump’s view that women are dogs and pigs,” Reid said on the floor. “You can only assume that the Republican leader is not repulsed by Trump’s behavior towards women.”
Just before Ryan’s press conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expressed no sympathy towards the speaker’s difficult position grappling a way to bridge fundamental disagreements with his party’s likely presidential nominee and suggested Trump is not an outlier among Republicans.
“The concern that has been expressed by the speaker and others about their unease with Donald Trump does not seem to apply to their own members,” Pelosi said. “I think many of their own members understand that Donald Trump is saying exactly what they say here.”
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