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Ryan on meeting with Trump: GOP won’t unite in a week

Ryan on meeting with Trump: GOP won’t unite in a week
© Greg Nash

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE on Tuesday sought to downplay expectations for his meeting this week with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE, forecasting no major breakthroughs that might unify the party’s two biggest stars.

The pair has feuded since last week, when the Wisconsin Republican shocked Washington by refusing to endorse Trump’s bid — a remarkable snub that raised real questions about how, or if, the fractured party could reconcile its differences before the general election.

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Ryan, in a shift from the more combative approach of last week, suggested Tuesday that unification is possible, but it will require more than a single meeting.

“I don’t go into Thursday with huge expectations other than just to have the kind of conversations that we need to start having so that we are getting ourselves on the same page as a party,” the Speaker said during an interview with a hometown radio station, WBEL, in Janesville, Wis.

In a separate interview with The Wall Street Journal streamed on Facebook, Ryan again alluded to the herculean task of bringing the GOP together: “It was a very, very bitter, divisive primary. It’s going to take more than a week just to repair and unify this party.”

His press secretary, AshLee Strong, fired off a tongue-in-cheek memo to the Fourth Estate, mocking reporters for wasting so much ink on the Trump-Ryan meeting.

“You should know that Thursday’s Ryan/Trump meeting is not the most important thing happening in DC this week,” she wrote, adding that the House is taking up important bills to address the opioid epidemic.

Even as the Speaker’s office tamped down expectations, details about Thursday’s closed-door gatherings began trickling out. Trump will huddle with Ryan and the Speaker’s close friend and fellow Wisconsinite, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus, at 9 a.m. at RNC headquarters.

Trump then will meet with Ryan and top members of the Speaker’s leadership team: Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersConservatives seize on New York Post story to push Section 230 reform Race heats up for top GOP post on powerful Energy and Commerce Committee Hillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video MORE (Wash.) and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (N.C.).

Finally, at 11:45 a.m., Trump will sit down with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day MORE (R-Ky.) and his leadership team: Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynBiden's oil stance jars Democrats in tough races The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in The Hill's Campaign Report: Obama to hit the campaign trail l Biden's eye-popping cash advantage l New battleground polls favor Biden MORE (Texas), Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight McConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session MORE (S.D.), Policy Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Hillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference GOP senators call on Trump to oppose nationalizing 5G MORE (Wyo.) and Conference Vice Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPower players play chess match on COVID-19 aid GOP to Trump: Focus on policy Low-flying helicopters to measure radiation levels in DC before inauguration MORE (Mo.).

To help smooth things over between the expected nominee and Speaker, Trump emissary Ben Carson held a phone call with Ryan on Tuesday night, said sources familiar with the call.

Ryan knows the soft-spoken Carson slightly better than he knows Trump; Carson was one of the 2016 GOP White House candidates who spoke at Ryan’s anti-poverty summit in South Carolina earlier this year. Ryan briefly met Trump in 2012, when he was GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate, but Ryan and Trump did connect by phone earlier this year to discuss the Speaker’s election-year policy agenda.

No other information about the Carson-Ryan call was provided, but it could help set the parameters and expectations of the Thursday talks.

The conflict between Ryan and Trump is twofold. First, Trump has adopted a long list of policy positions that run directly counter to the conservative agenda being pushed by Ryan and the Republicans on Capitol Hill. They are not fringe issues — they represent some of the most significant policy areas tackled by Washington, including tax reform, Medicare, international trade and immigration policy.

“Conservatives want to know: Does he share our values and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive, adherence to the Constitution?” Ryan said on Thursday in rebuking Trump on CNN. “There are a lot of questions that conservatives ... are going to want answers to, myself included.”

Then there’s the question of outreach and messaging.

After Romney’s resounding loss to President Obama in 2012, Priebus commissioned a GOP “autopsy,” a 100-page evaluation of the party’s shortcomings aimed at making the party more appealing to minorities and other broad swaths of voters.

But Trump’s tone on the campaign trail has been antagonistic from the start, stirring a seemingly endless string of controversies and insulting entire groups of people, including women, Hispanics and Muslims. Among the disputes, the billionaire has accused Mexican immigrants of being criminals; suggested a female reporter was menstruating during a Republican debate; called to ban all Muslims from entering the country; and refused to denounce the support of a well-known white supremacist.

Those episodes have been central to Trump’s rise and have threatened to undermine — if not shatter — the years-long effort by Republican leaders to bring more groups of voters into the party’s tent, including women, Hispanics and African-Americans.

Ryan suggested Trump’s harsh tone was a large part of the reason he’s withheld his endorsement, highlighting the concern of national GOP leaders that their presidential nominee will alienate voters to the detriment of other Republican candidates down the ballot.

“It’s time to set aside bullying, to set aside belittlement and appeal to higher aspirations,” Ryan told CNN.

The message was all but ignored by Trump, who took to the Sunday news shows to remind Ryan and other critics that his message, combative or not, has yielded results in the form of a primary rout over 16 more politically experienced contenders.

“I’m going to get millions and millions of votes more than the Republicans would have gotten,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Trump previewed his message to Ryan ahead of Thursday’s meeting: “I’m going to say, ‘Look, this is what the people want.’ ”

The real estate tycoon softened his tone on Tuesday, expressing hope that the Republicans will unite quickly for the sake of a November victory.

“I look very much forward to meeting w/Paul Ryan & the GOP Party Leadership on Thurs in DC,” Trump tweeted. “Together, we will beat the Dems at all levels!”

Ryan’s refusal to support Trump outright has given cover to vulnerable House Republicans such as Reps. Bob Dold (Ill.) and Barbara Comstock (Va.), but has also put some of Ryan’s fellow GOP leaders in an awkward spot.

Both of Ryan’s top lieutenants, McCarthy and Scalise, have signed on with Trump; McCarthy is a Trump delegate in California. But like Ryan, McMorris Rodgers and Policy Chairman Luke Messer (R-Ind.) say they aren’t quite ready to endorse Trump.

Ryan’s Senate counterpart, McConnell, broke with the Speaker and backed Trump. On Tuesday, McConnell had no comment when asked about Ryan’s hesitation.

“We know that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Ballot initiatives in Colorado, Louisiana could restrict abortion access Trump mocks Joe Biden's drive-in rallies at North Carolina event MORE will be four more years of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Trump hits Biden as 'disrespectful' to Obama MORE,” McConnell told reporters. “I think that’s going to be, in the end, enough to unify Republicans across the country.”

Cristina Marcos contributed.