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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit 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 Arthur HellerDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Nevada Dems unveil 2018 campaign mascot: 'Mitch McTurtle' Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in 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 Randolph ThuneWeek ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content Overnight Tech: GOP senator presses Apple over phone slowdowns | YouTube cancels projects with Logan Paul after suicide video | CEOs push for DACA fix | Bill would punish credit agencies for breaches GOP senator presses Apple on phone slowdowns MORE (S.D.), GOP Policy Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump’s infrastructure plan may slip to next month Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism Trump's infrastructure team to huddle with senators MORE (Wyo.) and GOP Conference Vice Chairman 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 (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 Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle 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 Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day 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.