Senate Republicans who met with Donald Trump Thursday described a mostly positive exchange with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee that was punctuated briefly by “frank exchanges” and some “tough” talk from Trump, who is rankled by some in the GOP conference who refuse to endorse him.
Trump met with GOP senators for 50 minutes, focusing his address on mostly policy issues, including poverty and taxes, and some discussion about polling.
But he made it clear to the GOP lawmakers that he believes they should be supporting him and told them: “It’s down to two, and if you can’t support me you are supporting Hillary.”
Several Republican lawmakers who attended the meeting denied a Washington Post report that the meeting was tense, but acknowledged Trump talked with — or about — some senators who have refused to endorse him. Among them was Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has publicly criticized Trump and stood up in the meeting to introduce himself as the Arizona senator “who didn’t get captured,” referring to Trump’s earlier criticism of Sen. John McCain’s time in a North Vietnam prison camp.
Flake criticized Trump over his immigration policy, which centers on building a wall along the Mexican border, and his statements that appear insulting to Mexicans.
“I didn’t think it was a tense exchange at all,” Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., who sat next to Flake at the meeting, said. “They stood up and they talked and it was an open and honest exchange … about where they are on immigration and conversations about Mexicans.”
Lankford said Trump then made “a typical Trump statement,” to Flake, warning him, “that you’ve been hard on me, I haven’t responded. I could engage but I haven’t.”
Lankford said Trump had a cordial conversation with another non-supporter, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
Trump, Lankford said, “made the comment, ‘I know where you are, this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to meet. We don’t agree but we can see eye to eye on these issues.'”
Lankford insisted, “It wasn’t tense at all.”
Lawmakers denied hearing Trump call Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., a “loser,” who would fail to win re-election in November.
Kirk, who was not at the meeting and is a staunch Trump critic, fired back when asked about the insult reportedly lobbed by Trump.
“I’ve never lost a race in Illinois,” he told the Washington Examiner.
Kirk then told another group of reporters he predicts Trump will bomb in November, likening him to Alan Keyes, a perennial presidential candidate who also lost handily to then state senator Barack Obama in the 2004 U.S. Senate race in Illinois.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, described the meeting as “the beginning of a conversation that will hopefully improve relationships,” with lawmakers.
But he didn’t deny Trump took aim at dissenters.
“I know he’s not particularly happy with some of the criticism he’s received, but that is fairly normal,” Cornyn said. “I actually thought there were some good exchanges in our meeting between some of the people who have been critics.”