Senate GOP leaders dodge questions on Mitt Romney comment

Senate Republican leaders escaped answering questions in front of TV cameras on Mitt Romney's controversial "47 percent" remarks on Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Republicans did not address with members of the press — or collectively behind closed doors — the elephant in the ornate room where the party holds its weekly caucus luncheon, its first group meeting since the GOP presidential nominee's comments were leaked earlier this week.

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In a departure from standard operating procedure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump: Obama didn’t want to ‘upset the apple cart’ by investigating Russians GOP-Trump trade fight boils over with threat to cars McConnell sees Ohio in play as confidence about midterms grows   MORE (R-Ky.) highlighted a report in The New York Times – a favorite GOP “whipping boy” publication — and the senators who joined him at the mics turned on their respective heels promptly after delivering their prepared statements.

For his part, McConnell cited a Times report documenting the current Congress as the "least productive in history" and congratulated Congressional Gold Medal recipient Aung San Suu Kyi before turning the presser over to his deputy, Assistant Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and the other leaders waiting to make their statements to the cameras.

Kyl bemoaned the impending consequences should Congress fail to address the coming "fiscal cliff" of spending cuts and tax hikes, and then GOP Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePoll: 8 in 10 people in key states concerned about driverless cars Hillicon Valley: Mnuchin urges antitrust review of tech | Progressives want to break up Facebook | Classified election security briefing set for Tuesday | Tech CEOs face pressure to appear before Congress Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-S.D.), GOP Policy Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSenate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Watchdog to probe EPA email preservation MORE (R-Wyo.) and GOP Conference Vice Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP-Trump trade fight boils over with threat to cars Senate harassment bill runs into opposition from House Senate approves new sexual harassment policy for Congress MORE (R-Mo.) each made their statements on various issues of the day — but did not mention the presidential race.

Before reporters realized what was happening, the four statesmen dispersed from the TV news cameras permitted to shoot the weekly post-luncheon GOP and Democratic pressers.

Their decision not to take questions on camera was an unusual departure from normal practice.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell not yet ready to change rules for Trump nominees The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Trump to press GOP on changing Senate rules MORE (D-Nev.), who spoke the GOP presser, answered at least a dozen questions during his time in front of the cameras.

It took a split-second for the phalanx of Capitol Hill beat reporters to realize that the GOP senators had run from the temporary podium set up in the august corridor just off the Senate floor, where the weekly pressers take place. Reporters swarmed the fleeing quartet of GOP senators to press them on Romney's remarks and whether the matter was discussed during their hour-and-a-half luncheon.

Blunt, Romney’s surrogate in the Senate, spoke to a handful of journalists 30 feet away from the temporary podium. Asked if Republican senators were concerned about Romney’s remarks to a campaign donor luncheon in Boca Raton, leaked to Mother Jones magazine, 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 Governor Romney himself said.”

Romney said in 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 health care, to food, to housing, you name it." He also said that 47 percent will "vote for this president no matter what."

A brief time later, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPutting the 'I' in president To woo black voters in Georgia, Dems need to change their course of action Senate panel again looks to force Trump’s hand on cyber warfare strategy MORE (R-Ariz.) indicated to The Hill that the matter was not discussed at the luncheon.