Senate GOP leaders dodge questions on Romney's '47 percent' remarks

Senate Republican leaders on Wednesday didn’t answer questions in front of TV cameras about Mitt Romney’s controversial “47 percent” remarks.

After their weekly caucus lunch, the GOP lawmakers faced the Capitol Hill media for the first time since the GOP presidential nominee’s comments were leaked earlier this week. 

In a departure from standard operating procedure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellWhat if there’s no 'Nuclear Option' in the Senate? Senate votes to eliminate Obama-era retirement rule Dem leaders give centrists space on Gorsuch MORE (R-Ky.) made brief remarks about inaction in the upper chamber and then departed without taking questions from the press. 

McConnell congratulated Congressional Gold Medal recipient Aung San Suu Kyi before turning the presser over to his deputy, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and others. 

A senior GOP aide noted that McConnell needed to leave for a ceremony honoring the Burmese opposition leader.

Politically vulnerable senators addressed the Romney controversy head on. 

Sen. Dean HellerDean HellerWith GOP’s healthcare bill on ice, Dems go on offense Red-state Dems in Supreme Court pressure cooker This week: House GOP faces make-or-break moment on ObamaCare MORE (R-Nev.), who is in a tight race with Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), said on Wednesday that he has a “very different view of the world” than that which Romney evinced at a private fundraiser.

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“I have five brothers and sisters. My father was an auto mechanic; my mother was a school cook,” Heller told reporters outside the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon. “I have a very different view of the world and as a United States senator I think I represent everybody. And every vote is important. Every vote is important in this race. I don’t write off anything.”

Other Republicans in competitive contests, such as Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), have distanced themselves from Romney’s comments.

Kyl, meanwhile, bemoaned the consequences should Congress fail to address the impending “fiscal cliff” of spending cuts and tax hikes, and then GOP Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn ThuneSenators move to bolster cyber resources for small businesses Optimism rising for infrastructure deal McConnell: ObamaCare 'status quo' will stay in place moving forward MORE (S.D.), GOP Policy Chairman John BarrassoJohn BarrassoTrump climate move risks unraveling Paris commitments Overnight Energy: Trump signs climate order | Greens vow to fight back How 'Big Pharma' stifles pharmaceutical innovation MORE (Wyo.) and GOP Conference Vice Chairman Roy BluntRoy BluntMembers help package meals at Kraft Heinz charity event in DC White House signals it can live without border wall funds Interior secretary hints border wall could be on Mexican land MORE (Mo.) each made statements on various issues, but did not mention the presidential race.

The Republican press conference followed the Democratic weekly media availability with Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWhat if there’s no 'Nuclear Option' in the Senate? Republican failure Senate about to enter 'nuclear option' death spiral MORE. The Nevada Democrat ripped Romney for being “out of touch,” adding, “We have a long line of [Republican Senate candidates] who are running from Romney, as if the Olympics were still on.” 

Kyl wrapped up the press conference with a brief wave to the media, indicating the GOP leaders would not take questions. 

Their decision not to field queries on camera was an unusual departure from normal practice.

Reid, meanwhile, answered about a half-dozen questions during his time in front of the cameras.

Reporters swarmed the fleeing quartet of GOP senators to press them on Romney’s remarks and whether the matter was discussed during their 90-minute lunch.

Asked if Republican senators are concerned about Romney’s remarks, or if the legislators had discussed the matter, Blunt wouldn’t say.

“Whether there was discussion at the lunch or not, I wouldn’t want to say,” Blunt said, “just because I really don’t think we ought to talk about what was discussed at the lunch.”

He proceeded to say, however, that he does not think the matter “is of great concern to members of the Senate. It could have been better said, as Gov. Romney himself said.”

Pressed on whether the controversy would hamper Republican Senate candidates, Thune told reporters they have to “do what they need to do to win.” He noted that a lot of Senate races are close and that it is up to individual candidates to express their message to voters. 

Romney said in the remarks, captured covertly on video, that almost half the country is “dependent on government” and believes the government “has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.” He also said that 47 percent will “vote for the president no matter what.”

Sen. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain responds to North Korean criticism to calling Kim Jong-un 'crazy fat kid' Overnight Finance: Dems seek probe of acting SEC chief | Defense hawks say they won't back short-term funding | Senate seen as start point for Trump infrastructure plan | Dems want more money for IRS Overnight Defense: Pentagon considers more troops for Afghanistan | McCain, Graham won't back short-term funding | GOP defends Trump rules of engagement MORE (R-Ariz.) indicated to The Hill that the matter was not discussed at the GOP lunch. Other members said it was tackled, but not extensively. 

— Bob Cusack, Cameron Joseph and Alexander Bolton contributed.