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Trump blasts media in meeting with House Republicans

Trump blasts media in meeting with House Republicans
© Greg Nash/The Hill
In his first meeting with House Republicans, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE on Thursday sought to do damage control, blasting the "disingenuous" media for reporting that he praised former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein at a rally this week, said sources in the room. 
 
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"I said, 'Hussein was a very, very bad man, but the one thing he did very well was kill terrorists,'" Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, told a standing room only crowd of House Republicans at the Capitol Hill Club.
 
"The next day I wake up to headlines that say 'Trump praises Hussein.' The media is totally disingenuous," Trump said at the closed-door meeting.
 
Trump, accompanied by his daughter and close adviser, Ivanka Trump, arrived to the meeting about 20 minutes late.
 
But he received two standing ovations — once when he arrived and later when CNBC's Larry Kudlow introduced him. 
 
Trump will meet with Senate Republicans after the session with House Republicans. 
 
The meetings come as some Republicans worry that having Trump at the top of the ticket could hurt their efforts to keep the Senate majority. Some Republicans were expected to skip the Trump meetings, though hundreds of House Republicans appeared to be in attendance. 
 
Trump is seeking to unify a Republican Party less than two weeks before its nominating convention in Cleveland. 
 
In his brief opening remarks, Trump boasted that he raised more than $50 million last quarter and touched on the Second Amendment, building a strong military and securing the border, sources said. 
 
He also offered praise for Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who was in the room. And he talked about the need to win the White House so conservatives don't lose the Supreme Court. 
 
 
Among the more interesting was a question from freshman Rep. Crescent Hardy (R-Nev.), who asked about Trump's feelings toward Hispanics. 
 
"I have one of the most diverse districts in the nation held by a Republican. What is he going to do to make sure that his appeal doesn't continue to detract from the opportunities we have to win that state, which is a swing state?" Hardy told reporters afterward.
 
Trump replied that he gets along well with Hispanics and referenced polling that shows he's doing better among Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney did.
 
Hardy said that he was satisfied by Trump's answer.
 
"I was, I actually was," Hardy told reporters.
 
Controversy over Trump's recent tweet with a six-pointed star interpreted by critics as anti-Semitic didn't come up in the meeting, according to Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

About 200 House Republicans attended the meeting, sources estimated. Also with Trump and his daughter was Paul Manafort, the Republican's campaign manager.

Outside the Capitol Hill Club, next door to the RNC headquarters, about 30 protesters held signs critical of Trump and chanted "Dump Trump" and "Donald Trump, go away!  Racist, sexist, anti-gay!"

Some held giant cut outs headshots of Speaker Ryan and vulnerable Senate Republicans — Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOn The Money: Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia | Treasury releases guidance on 'opportunity zone' program | Maxine Waters gets company in new GOP line of attack Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms How Kavanaugh got the votes  MORE (Ohio), Pat Toomey (Penn.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue McConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms MORE (Ariz.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Meghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family The Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump MORE (Fla.) — sporting Trump "Make America Great Again!" hats.
 
On Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Gabbard considering 2020 run: report Claiming 'spousal privilege' to stonewall Congress MORE, the likely Democratic nominee, Trump referenced a New York Post article that suggested the FBI gave Trump an election year gift by refusing to recommend charges after their investigation of her handling of classified information. 
 
But Trump refuted that argument.
 
"They may have given me a gift but it was wrong" what she did, he said.
 
House GOP Policy Committee Chairman Luke Messer (R-Ind.) said Trump connected with Republicans in the room.
 
"Frankly he was very impressive," said Messer, who described Trump as focused on his path to victory. 
 
"My hope is that moving forward... the public Trump starts to look more like the private Trump. If that happens, he can win."
 
Trump supporters were quick to hail the visit, emphasizing those areas where he and House Republicans agree, including efforts to repeal ObamaCare, simplify the tax code, roll back federal regulations and name a loyal conservative to the Supreme Court.

"It was a great unifying speech," said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.).

"He shared his perspective, and folks were very receptive."

"I could really see our entire Republican conference rallying behind and unifying behind Donald Trump," echoed Rep. John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingOvernight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Coast Guard suspends search for missing Ohio plane MORE (R-La.). "I saw people ... who I think maybe were skeptical at first who were really sold."

But many of those skeptics had a decidedly different story to tell, saying nothing in Trump's message has convinced them he's presidential material.

"It was, I guess, typical Donald Trump," said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-I'll.). "There's a lack of enthusiasm, you can feel it. ... I don't begrudge anybody that supports him, I'm just — personally, as an American — I have a hard time getting there."

Rep. Scott RigellEdward (Scott) Scott RigellGOP rushes to embrace Trump GOP lawmaker appears in Gary Johnson ad Some in GOP say Trump has gone too far MORE (R-Va.) echoed that criticism.

"Nothing he said changes the view that I've expressed from the beginning that I think he lacks the temperament and the judgment and the character to be, particularly, commander in chief," he said.

"I'm greatly disappointed that this is the choice before us."
 
Mike Lillis and Cristina Marcos contributed to this story.
 
- Updated at 10:30 a.m.