GOP lawmakers: We’re fine with Trump in race

GOP lawmakers: We’re fine with Trump in race

Republicans on Capitol Hill welcomed Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems flip Wisconsin state Senate seat Sessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants GOP rep: 'Sheet metal and garbage' everywhere in Haiti MORE to the presidential race Wednesday, 24 hours after the property tycoon announced his candidacy with a bizarre and combative speech in New York.

Some conservative pundits have expressed concern that Trump’s penchant for extreme rhetoric on matters including immigration and trade, as well as his propensity to ad-lib insults, could turn the presidential debates and primary process into a circus.

But that’s apparently not the feeling among Republicans on Capitol Hill, where many argue Trump will be a welcome addition to the debate stage, bringing issues to the forefront that might otherwise be ignored.

“I think he’s a needed voice,” said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.). “He’s going to get people off their talking points — on anything.

“It’ll give the other nine the opportunity to let people see them and show that they can handle themselves in an asymmetrical situation,” King added, referring to the 10-candidate limit set for the year’s first debate in August.

Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants DOJ wades into archdiocese fight for ads on DC buses Overnight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector MORE (R-Ala.) said Trump sounded strong in his Tuesday announcement speech by vowing to stand up to China. Sessions said Trump was “maybe over the top a little bit” on immigration but argued at least he was “raising issues.”

Referring to Trump’s likely impact, Sessions said, “One thing that’s going to disturb the establishment is that these issues are going to be on the table even though they’d like them not to be.”

It is possible that Republicans are not quite so bullish about a Trump candidacy in private as they profess to be in public. It’s also true that few people in the GOP want to criticize Trump so harshly that they become targets for his invective.

But for the moment at least, Republicans in Congress insist they are unconcerned about Trump’s unpredictable flourishes.

“I have every confidence that Republican voters are intelligent enough to know what to take seriously about Mr. Trump and what not to take seriously,” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), arguing Trump will “bring certain things up” that others might seek to sweep under the rug.

Other Republicans said Trump’s appearance at a GOP primary debate might be good for ratings and have ancillary benefits for the party as a whole.

“I want him to be as entertaining as possible because that brings more American voters to watch our debates,” said Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Kermit the Frog, Ellen Degeneres among write-ins in Alabama special election Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks reveals he has prostate cancer MORE (R-Ala.). “I believe that his chances of prevailing are extraordinarily remote, but in the meantime, he’ll be fun to watch.”

Trump’s brash nature was on full display in his Tuesday campaign launch. 

He vowed to escalate a trade battle with China, said he’d bomb countries in the Middle East to take their oil and pledged to force Mexico to build a wall along its border with the United States to keep its citizens from coming here illegally.

In interviews after his announcement, Trump said he does not “have a lot of respect for many” of the GOP candidates and began singling them out for attacks.

“The last thing we need is another Bush,” Trump said on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” referring to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who made his own candidacy official the day before Trump’s announcement.

But even Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), a Bush supporter, said Trump could contribute to the party’s debates.

“I respect him,” Mica said. “He’s got his own perspective and following. But I think people take it within context. He’s going to try and claw his way to the top.”

Mica said he got to know Trump while helping break ground on the Old Post Office property in Washington, which the real estate developer is turning into a hotel.

Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonState Department faces mounting cyber threats A Department of Energy foundation: An idea whose time has come Tillerson’s No. 2 faces questions over State cyber closure MORE (R-S.C.) said he gained enormous respect for Trump after meeting him personally. Wilson said his son Alan Wilson has worked with Trump in his capacity as attorney general for South Carolina.

“I consider him a very responsible individual and obviously very successful,” said Wilson, who added he too was happy to welcome Trump to the party’s debates.

The Hill interviewed more than a dozen GOP lawmakers, and the overwhelming view was, if Trump qualifies for the debates, he should be allowed onstage.

“I think everyone should have an opportunity,” said Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteLessons from Alabama: GOP, throw out the old playbook The Hill's 12:30 Report Explaining Democratic victories: It’s gun violence, stupid MORE (R-N.H.).

Still, many Republicans didn’t seem to take Trump’s candidacy seriously.

Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ DHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising MORE (R-Ark.) laughed and shook his head as he said, “No comment.”

“I have given no thought to Donald Trump’s candidacy,” Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Senate GOP wary of ending Russia probes, despite pressure GOP on precipice of major end-of-year tax victory MORE (R-Mo.) said.

Brooks, meanwhile, appeared highly amused when asked what he thought of Trump’s suggestion that he might select Oprah Winfrey as his running mate.

“That’s what I mean when I say that he’s going to make the race more interesting to watch. You have no idea what he’s going to say next,” Brooks said.

Most Republicans believe Trump has no shot at winning the nomination.

According to a Washington Post/ABC News survey released earlier this month, Trump’s favorability rating among Republican voters was a net negative of 42 percentage points.

Nevertheless, Trump currently is in position to qualify for the GOP debates. 

He’s in ninth place nationally, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. If the debates were held tomorrow, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Ohio Gov. John Kasich; former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.); businesswoman Carly Fiorina; Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDHS chief takes heat over Trump furor Overnight Defense: GOP chair blames Dems for defense budget holdup | FDA, Pentagon to speed approval of battlefield drugs | Mattis calls North Korea situation 'sobering' Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House MORE (S.C.); Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former New York Gov. George Pataki would all be left off the stage.

Not all Capitol Hill Republicans are thrilled by that prospect.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said he has a “very difficult time taking [Trump] seriously.” 

“If he is going to have the impact of kicking a serious candidate off the dais for the first debate, I hope he takes it just as seriously as the person he kicks off,” Mulvaney said.