Romney in DC for meetings with leading congressional Republicans

Mitt Romney met Thursday with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), House Budget Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanYou just can't keep good health policy down Trump blasts Congress for sending him omnibus bill that 'nobody read' Students bash Congress for inaction on gun control MORE (R-Wis.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in Washington, according to sources. 

The meetings gave the GOP front-runner an audience with some of the Republican Party's top conservative kingmakers, just as the air of inevitability appears to be taking hold around Romney's presidential campaign.

McCarthy, the third-ranking House Republican, was the top-ranking member of leadership to meet with Romney. Asked if he was getting ready to endorse the GOP front-runner, McCarthy smiled and replied: "Stay tuned."

Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorGOP sees McCarthy moving up — if GOP loses the House Feehery: The governing party 'Release the memo' — let's stop pretending that Democrats are the defenders of the FBI MORE (R-Va.) has already endorsed Romney. Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner4 reasons Mike Pompeo will succeed at Foggy Bottom The misunderstood reason Congress can’t get its job done GOP sees McCarthy moving up — if GOP loses the House MORE (R-Ohio) has vowed to stay out of the GOP race, although his aides have said he will endorse when a clear nominee emerges.

Neither Ryan nor DeMint has endorsed Romney this year, though DeMint did endorse the former Massachusetts governor during his 2008 run for the White House.

An aide to DeMint said it was a "courtesy meeting" and not a precursor to an endorsement. DeMint has said he won't endorse in the Republican primary.

Romney requested the meeting and DeMint agreed to meet with him, as he has done with other GOP presidential candidates, the aide said.

DeMint spoke to reporters after the meeting and did not endorse Romney but said he was "comfortable" with the him and other conservatives should be too.

"I can tell conservatives from my perspective is that, I'm not only comfortable with Romney, I'm excited about the possibility of him possibly being our nominee," the senator said, according to CNN. "Again, this is not a formal endorsement and I do not intend to do that right now but I just think we just need to look at where we are."

He also seemed to indicate Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich should think about exiting the race.

"I think we all need to look at this presidential primary and encourage the candidates to do a little self-reflection here — what's good for our country," DeMint said. "The sooner we can make a decision, I think the sooner we can focus on the real problem which is Obama."

The timing of the meeting with Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, is also notable, coming the same week that Ryan unveiled a politically risky budget proposal. Romney said he supported Ryan's plan in a statement released after the plan was released to the public.

Romney started his day at a breakfast fundraiser with senators and other lawmakers, hosted by Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntDem calls for CDC to immediately begin gun violence research Senate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump GOP senator threatened to hold up bill over provision to honor late political rival: report MORE (R-Mo.), one of Romney's top backers in the Senate. He raised $400,000 at the standing-room-only event at the Hyatt hotel, according to a source close to the Romney campaign.

His official schedule lists him as in town for "private meetings," which come two days after his double-digit win the Illinois primary and the day after a highly coveted endorsement from former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.).

Romney's meeting with Ryan came in the context of a session with Wisconsin's congressional delegation that Rep. Sean DuffySean Patrick DuffyGOP lawmaker: 'Of course' Dems will impeach Trump if they take control of House Longtime manager of Bon Iver to run for Congress in Wisconsin: report GOP rep: We want DACA bill, but Dems want ‘an open border’ MORE (R-Wis.), a Tea Party star, also attended.

Ryan's office confirmed the lawmaker met with Romney this morning, along with his fellow Wisconsin lawmakers.

It's one of several meetings with congressional delegations on Romney's schedule in Washington, D.C., according to a source close to Romney.

Even tacit approval from DeMint could be a major boon for Romney, who continues to struggle with the Tea Party wing of the party and to convince many GOP leaders that his conservative credentials are solid.

The support of DeMint and his Senate Conservatives Fund played a major role in boosting a number of successful candidates two years ago, including Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio: 'Hyperventilating' about Bolton unfounded George Clooney writes Parkland students: 'You make me proud of my country again' Biden praises Parkland students fighting for gun reform: ‘They’re going to win’ MORE (R-Fla.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMichael Steele: Congress must lead on cannabis reform and stand with the American public Lawmakers renew call for end to 'black budget' secrecy McCain asks Trump's CIA pick to explain ties to torture MORE (R-Ky.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). DeMint's campaign committee recently gave $500,000 to the Club for Growth to boost fiscally conservative Republican candidates in congressional races.

- This story was posted at 10:55 a.m. and has been updated.

— Russell Berman and Erik Wasson contributed