GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill are trying their best to avoid having to deal with Donald Trump’s response to the worst shooting in U.S. history. With Trump the story of the day Tuesday, some members tried to dodge questions about the Muslim ban or Trump’s speech Monday and others found respite in their offices or the House and Senate chambers.
When TPM asked Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) whether he had thoughts about Trump’s doubling down on his call for the Muslim ban he had just one word at first: “No.” Then he pivoted the conversation to his role as chief deputy whip. “I just left a conference dealing with a DOD approps bill. That’s what I’m focused on, that’s my role in the House is counting votes. That’s what I’m focused on.”
While Trump’s inflammatory speech Monday was front page news, some GOP lawmakers claimed they hadn’t even seen it.
“I didn’t hear the speech,” Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) demurred. “I hate to comment on something I didn’t hear.”
Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) offered a similar response. “I am not going to comment on that at this particular point in time partly because I have been traveling and rushing around,” he said. “I haven’t read all of his comments, heard all his comments. In fairness, I want to think that through and read it before I make a comment so you’ll have to ask somebody else.”
“I didn’t follow it closely,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) told MSNBC reporter Benjy Sarlin.
When asked how he felt about Trump’s speech, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) stopped, paused, and told MSNBC’s Sarlin, “You know…mmm” then walked onto the Senate floor.
Faced with similar questions, Trump’s former rival Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) “stood in an elevator looking at reporters and waited for the doors to close,” according to The Huffington Post.
The stress and repetition of an outspoken presumptive nominee seems to be taking its toll on some lawmakers.
“I’m not gonna make a career out of responding to every comment and every tweet,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) complained.
Sen. Mitch McConnel (R-KY) took a similar route: “Yeah, I’m not going to be commenting on presidential candidate today.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said he won’t be giving his take on day-to day-Trump comments.
If dodging Trump questions was a purposeful and strategic move by the GOP, some lawmakers did not get the memo. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told NBC News reporter Frank Thorp that Trump’s call for a Muslim immigrant ban is “not what this country stand for.” Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C), a frequent Trump critic said, “Mr. Trump seems to be suggesting the president is one of them (a terrorist); I find that highly offensive.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) even delved into the real-world implications of such comments from Trump. “I think you have to be a little careful with the rhetoric. You don’t want to inflame or help the recruiting efforts,” he said, according to Politico.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) went the furthest. “I don’t like to agree with Hillary Clinton, but I think she’s right in that you can’t demonize an entire religion,” he said on a radio show, reported by BuzzFeed. “I think that (the Muslim ban) does more harm than good, we have a rich history in this country of being welcoming of all religion and class.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-PA), who many have pegged as a possible Trump VP pick, sounded disappointed with Trump’s actions, according to Sarlin and CNN reporter Betsey Klein.
“It wasn’t the type of speech one would expect” from potential president, he said to Sarlin. “I have offered words of encouragement at important times, but I have been discouraged by the results,” he told Klein.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) took a different course: denial. “We don’t have a nominee,” Lamar said, according to the AP’s Erica Werner. When she informed him Trump is the presumptive nominee, Alexander insisted, “That’s what you say.”