Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) really didn’t want to answer one more question about Donald Trump.
“Sometime in the next 24 hours I may do a total moratorium on any Trump questions in this building and just refer you to the office who knows how many times I’ve already answered the Trump questions,” Blunt said.
In the Senate Monday, just a week after Trump became the party’s presumptive nominee and any hope of a contested convention was laid to rest in Indiana, Republican lawmakers resistantly settled into their new normal: their futures are inextricably tied to a Manhattan billionaire who has run his campaign as if it is a reality television show. And everything he says? They are about to have to answer for it.
Scuttling around the hill, many GOP senators were reticent to embrace Trump outright, and that often took the form of demanding more from him.
“So he still needs to unite the party and the nation,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) said, refusing to answer whether he could support Trump.
Many Republican senators –even those who vowed to support the nominee–wouldn’t say Trump’s name aloud Monday as they marched through halls to votes. Others referred reporters to their offices’ pre-scripted statements to avoid having to re-answer a politically fraught question.
“I’ve already stated my position,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK)
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who praised Trump’s foreign policy speech a couple of weeks ago, took a pregnant pause before answering whether he was ready to support and endorse his nominee.
“We have always planned to support the nominee,” Corker said. When asked if he planned to meet with Trump, Corker said “I don’t know … we’re busy doing our job.”
This week Trump will come to Capitol Hill in an effort to bring the GOP party together. He plans to meet with GOP Senate and House leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan, but the unease of senators is palatable as they meditate on what Trump could mean for their fragile majority.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has said he can’t support Trump yet, simply said “yes” when asked if Trump could be enough to lose the GOP control of the Senate.
Those running, however, are trying to play it as if they are in control of their own races, a play Democrats tried to make in 2014 when many lost their seats because of strong anti-Obama sentiment in their own states.
“I support the ticket and I am running for re-election and supporting me. I want to help keep the majority in the Senate,” Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) responded when asked if he was backing Trump.
Isakson hasn’t decided if he will attend the Republican convention in Cleveland in July when Trump will be coronated as the nominee.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is fighting for his seventh term in November, says right now his plan is to just go greet the Iowans in Cleveland and then head home. As for how Trump could hurt him in November, Grassley grins.
“You gotta run your own campaign.” Grassley said. “Remember, everybody thought Reagan was going to take us down to defeat in 1980 and I ended up getting 100,000 more votes than Reagan got so you’re talking to the wrong person when you’re mixing up Senate races and presidential races.”
But those who are worried about Trump are just part of the story. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is also frustrated that his colleagues aren’t jumping on the Trump train and they are denying Trump the respect he believes he’s earned.
“Donald Trump has talked directly to the American people about concerns they have not about Washington’s concerns,” said Sessions, who has publicly endorsed Trump. “I think it is sadly true that Republicans and Democrats have somehow lost contact with the people.”