It’s been months in the making, but when Donald Trump visits lawmakers in Washington Thursday, he may find the GOP turnout is a bit on the lighter side than what you would expect when rank and file lawmakers get the rare opportunity to meet with their party’s nominee.
With less than two weeks to go before the official nominating convention
in Cleveland, Republican lawmakers’ frustration with their nominee’s
off-script message and dismal fundraising appears to be manifesting
itself in their utter disinterest in showing up to visit him.
“I have not looked at my schedule yet to know,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
said when asked by reporters if he planned to attend the meeting with
Trump. “I’m very wrapped up – as you know in this terror bill right now.
That’s what I’m totally focused on.”
Portman–like several other senators needing to check their appointment books before committing to a meeting with Trump– is up for re-election in 2016.
“I’m not sure I’m even going to be able to attend the meeting yet,” Sen. Pat
Toomey (R-PA)– another member facing re-election–said as he dashed into
an elevator in the basement of the Capitol. “I just don’t know what I
got on my schedule for tomorrow.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told TPM he’d be presiding over the Senate during the Trump meeting.
“Obviously, of all the people who could be in that room other than Ted Cruz, I am
quite familiar with his positions on a number of issues,” Rubio said.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)– the chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services
Committee – says he has a previously scheduled committee hearing to
In the past, a meeting with a party’s presidential nominee was the kind of event on Capitol Hill that lawmakers couldn’t resist. It was an opportunity for them to put their state’s priorities and policy proposals front and center as the nominee set out on the trail. But this cycle, Trump’s controversial statements on everything from mass deportation to banning Muslims to abortion have worn on lawmakers forced to answer for everything their nominee says and does.
“We are dealing with a very unconventional candidate here who’s made a
number of incendiary comments including one just yesterday on Saddam
Hussein,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), a moderate who has not endorsed Trump.
In the past, Republicans on the fence had held out hope that maybe members of Congress could convince Trump to soften his tone if they met or spoke with him, but lawmakers’ disinterest in Thursday’s meeting may reveal the growing consensus that Trump is not going to change before November.
“The cake is sort of already baked I guess,” Dent said, noting that he may go to the meeting just to listen in.
When asked if there was anything he wanted to hear from Trump at the meeting
Thursday, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) curtly answered, “Nope.”
“Are you going to the meeting?” he was asked. “I got nothing to say,” he responded.
Compounding the frustration on the Hill has been a new reality that Trump’s foibles go beyond rhetorical. His lack of fundraising and grassroots
infrastructure could set back Republican lawmakers up for re-election who typically relied on the nominee to invest in a swing state’s get out the vote
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who has said he won’t be endorsing Trump, said he was considering going to the meeting just to take in the scene.
“I might go … just to observe and see my colleagues and see what they say,” Kirk said.
Of course not all members are squandering the rare opportunity to have the ear of the nominee.
“I’m hoping we’ll talk about the economy. I’m hoping we’ll have a robust
conversation on the direction forward and talk about a little strategy,”
said Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). “A strategy for winning.”
For some – like Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)– Thursday will be the first opportunity to even meet the nominee.
“I’m anxious just to meet him and listen and get a little more concrete as far as his plans for the future,” Boozman said.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) said he was hoping to see a more laid back and human
side of Trump that he hears so much about from Trump’s surrogates on
“I want to get that kind of personal thing that people talk about that say he’s different in person than he is in his other persona,” Perry said. “I hate to say it, but to a certain extent, we are concerned about the political realities right now … we want to make sure he can win.”
For some members, the tepid attitude toward Trump’s Hill overture was frustrating.
“That’s unfortunate. We have a clear Republican nominee. I think it behooves every single Republican senator up here to support that nominee. It was a Republican process, a Republican debate. It’s going to be the Republican convention. The Republican candidate that comes out of that deserves our support,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).
One member, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), said he wouldn’t make it because he had a doctor’s appointment.
A skeptical reporter wasn’t buying that excuse.
“I got hurt playing tennis yesterday. I swear to God,” Rooney said pulling in another congressman to corroborate his story.
“It’s an emergency,” he said, limping down the hallway.