Trump seeks lawmaker support on Capitol Hill
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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP congressman slams Trump over report that U.S. bombed former anti-ISIS coalition headquarters US to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump says lawmakers should censure Schiff MORE’s campaign huddled with House Republicans on Capitol Hill on Thursday in an attempt to win more lawmaker support for his campaign for president.

The press for congressional support also comes as the Republican front-runner battles Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem debate contenders take aim at Warren The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Turkey controversy This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington MORE (R-Texas) for delegates on the way to a GOP convention that may decide who the party's standard-bearer will be in the fall. 

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Trump has been losing to Cruz in the hand-to-hand fight for delegates, and the meeting suggests his campaign operation is trying to better its efforts at working with officeholders in the delegate race. 

“We’re running campaigns right now, so we can be very helpful on the ground in our states. And that’s where we are. We really need to do an outreach to the delegates,” Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaEx-GOP congressman to lead group to protect Italian products from tariffs Head of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 MORE (R-Pa.) told reporters after the meeting.

Barletta was one of a half-dozen members who attended the meeting at the Capitol Hill Club with Ed Brookover, who manages delegate strategy for Trump. All have already endorsed Trump.

Brookover appeared bullish on the GOP front-runner's prospects after the meeting.

"Our path to 1,237 is pretty clear," Brookover told reporters at the Capitol Hill Club. "I think we’re on a glide path."

Reps. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the first members of Congress to endorse Trump, organized the session just a block from the Capitol. It's the first of what they hope will become weekly gatherings whenever the House is in session.

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Those in attendance included Collins and Hunter, who chair Trump’s congressional outreach effort, as well as Barletta and Reps. Scott DesJarlais (Tenn.) and Tom Marino (Pa.). 

Trump is trying to reach 1,237 delegates, which would clinch the GOP nomination before the convention.

If he doesn't meet that threshold, a GOP nominee could be chosen on a second, third or fourth ballot at the July Republican convention in Cleveland. Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are seeking to keep Trump from 1,237 in the hope that delegates will then select one of them as the nominee. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.) this week said he would not accept the nomination in Cleveland. He also said he believed delegates should only consider people who ran for president this year as the GOP nominee. 

Cruz has been working state conventions across the country in an effort to make sure delegates loyal to his campaign are in Cleveland. That would better his chances of becoming the nominee. 

The effort has led to criticism from Trump, who slammed the Republican National Committee (RNC) this week by arguing that its system for selecting its nominee is stacked against political outsiders.

The front-runner told The Hill in an exclusive interview that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus “should be ashamed of himself” over the process, leading Priebus to respond, "Give me a break" on Twitter. 

Trump’s congressional backers said Thursday that the delegate process makes it harder for Trump to clinch the nomination, even though he has won more primaries than any other GOP candidate. Colorado, for instance, recently awarded all of its 34 delegates to Cruz as part of a convention.

“It’s a matter of looking at it and saying, is it weighed against an outsider coming to Washington? Is the system weighted against that person? And I think we’d have to be honest and say it probably is, and is that what we want? Is that what the American people want? I don’t think so,” Barletta said. 

Many Republicans worry Trump could be a weak candidate in the fall given his poor approval ratings overall, particularly with women.

His campaign went without a single congressional endorsement from his launch last June until last month. Nine lawmakers are now on record backing Trump.

Collins maintained that they aren’t necessarily pressuring fellow lawmakers to make public endorsements but can help the campaign in other ways.

“When you make an endorsement, you know, there’s issues that go with that depending on your district. So I don’t think any of us expect the word 'endorsement.' What you’re going to see is 247 Republicans supporting the Republican nominee for president,” Collins said.

“Mr. Trump is a political outsider. He’s not collecting endorsements,” the New York Republican added.

Yet Trump’s campaign has acknowledged the need to enhance efforts out of Washington in recent weeks. The campaign opened a Washington-based office last month and is only starting weekly congressional outreach meetings as of Thursday.

Trump also met with a handful of lawmakers and D.C. Republicans such as former Speaker Newt Gingrich at the Jones Day law firm in Washington last month.

The real estate mogul was not at Thursday’s Capitol Hill meeting.

“This meeting was sort of step one as we begin to transition from our primary focus to becoming the nominee toward the general election,” Brookover told reporters.

Other House Republicans who were departing unrelated meetings at the Capitol Hill Club largely glanced resignedly at the clutch of media staked outside the building for the Trump campaign gathering. 

But Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a Cruz backer, stepped up to the microphones set up for lawmakers in the Trump meeting to speak before the cameras and offer an impromptu defense of his preferred candidate.

He suggested Thursday’s meeting was an attempt by the Trump campaign to "catch up" in understanding how delegates are awarded and clinch the necessary 1,237 to win the nomination.

“Ted Cruz examined the rules and set about a campaign a year ago to play by the rules. I’m glad Ted Cruz is playing by the rules, and he’s not complaining about the rules. I wish that were also true of Trump,” King told reporters.

“These are the rules. And it’s how we’ve always done this,” he said.

--This report was updated at 1:04 p.m.