Ryan, Trump set for showdown

Ryan, Trump set for showdown
© Greg Nash

Don’t expect a joint press conference or photo op after Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE and Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan moving family to Washington Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Ex-Parkland students criticize Kellyanne Conway MORE’s eagerly anticipated summit on Thursday.

Ryan is showing no signs that he’s prepared to swiftly endorse Trump when they emerge from their huddle at Republican National Committee (RNC) headquarters on Thursday morning.

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Instead, the first formal sit-down between the presumptive GOP presidential nominee and the Speaker of the House, under the watchful eye of a multitude of TV cameras and reporters, represents more of an opening bid in the relationship between a Manhattan billionaire one step from the presidency and congressional leaders trying to protect their House and Senate majorities — not to mention the GOP brand.

It’s not only Ryan (R-Wis.) who’s hesitant to get aboard the Trump train. While many rank-and-file members are pressuring the Speaker to rally behind Trump, others are still deeply disturbed by the candidate’s controversial comments and actions related to Mexicans, Muslims, women, POWs, the disabled and white supremacists.

And influential conservatives are pushing the candidate to clarify his confusing positions on such issues as tax increases, raising the minimum wage and abortion.

“A lot of people want to know what Mr. Trump’s policies are. I’d like to know what his policies are as well,” said Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresConservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess Overnight Energy: GOP lawmaker parodies Green New Deal in new bill | House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill | Park Service chief grilled over shutdown House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill MORE (R-Texas), who is chairman of the 170-member Republican Study Committee (RSC) and, like Ryan, has not yet endorsed.

Asked if he were on board, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) replied: “With our [House GOP] agenda.”

“With Donald Trump?” a reporter followed up. 

“With our agenda,” said Wenstrup, whose state will play host to the Republican National Convention in July.

The stakes for the meeting, and the Republican Party, are huge.

Several polls released in the last two days have suggested a close race between Trump and likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe exhaustion of Democrats' anti-Trump delusions Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado Soft levels of support mark this year's Democratic primary MORE.

Trump is seeking to unite the GOP behind his White House bid, and many Republicans are ready to get behind him with the argument that Clinton must be stopped short of the White House.

Others, echoing Ryan, aren’t there yet and are worried about whether the maverick Trump will lead congressional Republicans to a landslide defeat in November.

Ryan, it seems, will have a lot of questions for Trump.

Shortly after Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP strategist predicts Biden will win nomination, cites fundraising strength 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters MORE and John Kasich dropped out of the race last week, Ryan delivered a stunning blow to Trump, appearing on CNN and declaring he was “not ready” to support or endorse the real estate mogul and reality TV star.

The move was surprising to many because Ryan has repeatedly insisted in interviews this year that he would unequivocally back whoever won the nomination.

GOP aides said there would not be a joint Trump-Ryan news conference after the meeting but that Ryan will hold his usual end-of-week news conference in the Capitol later Thursday.

As for the media-hungry Trump, it’s unclear whether he will address the gaggle of reporters after the meetings. The last time he visited the RNC, he sneaked in and out through a back alleyway entrance, giving only a wave from afar.

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), a Trump surrogate, is working to schedule a meeting between the candidate and the far-right House Freedom Caucus in the near future, caucus members confirmed. And Flores said Trump should make an effort to meet with the conservative RSC as well.

“I think it would be beneficial for him to reach out to as many members of Congress as he can,” Flores said in the interview. “If I were a presidential candidate, I would definitely reach out to the largest caucus in the conference.”

House leaders plan to ask Trump on Thursday to meet with the entire 246-member GOP conference at a later date, as is customary for the party’s presidential nominee, said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who will sit in on one of the several meetings with Trump.

“A lot of members don’t know him,” said McCarthy, a Trump delegate from California. “And anytime you want to unify the party, you have the nominee there with the entire conference so that everybody can ask questions and get answers directly.”

So far, the majority of Ryan’s House colleagues have been respectful of his decision and want to give him as much space as he needs.

He’s faced some backlash, but it hasn’t been enormous — probably because Ryan has spent the past six months as Speaker reaching out to rank-and-file members, building relationships with them and giving them opportunities to shape policy decisions.

That’s a marked difference from how the public now views Ryan.

A new Public Policy Polling survey showed him underwater, with 44 percent of Republicans disapproving of the way he’s doing his job and 40 percent approving. In November, nearly 70 percent of Republicans supported Ryan becoming Speaker.   

“I think that Paul is a very thoughtful and responsible leader, and he’s going through that process,” said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), one of Trump’s first supporters on Capitol Hill.

But a handful of other Republicans aren’t exhibiting the same kind of patience.

“To me, it’s pretty clear you have two choices”: Trump or Hillary Clinton, said Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), who first backed Cruz but now supports Trump.

Ryan “could have handled it much better. He made a pledge to support the nominee a few months ago. He should have said, ‘I’m going to keep my pledge, but I still have some questions,’ ” Labrador told The Hill. “I think that would have been the right approach.”

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a Jeb Bush backer who is now on board with Trump, said he’s not expecting a Trump-Ryan “group hug” on Thursday. But he does want Ryan to move it along.

“I would like to see him get to yes sooner rather than later because we need to unify the party, and he holds the key to that,” Ross told The Hill.

At a news conference Wednesday, Ryan said this will mark the first time the pair will get a chance to talk extensively in person. They don’t know each other well, having only met briefly in 2012, when Ryan was campaigning for vice president.  

But throughout the 2016 campaign, they’ve clashed repeatedly in the press. Ryan publicly condemned Trump several times, calling his proposed temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the country “unconstitutional,” urging Trump to control violence at his campaign events and chiding him for failing to disavow the support of white supremacist David Duke.

Asked Wednesday what specifically he needed to hear from Trump to win his endorsement, Ryan replied that he was looking for agreement on broad principles, not specific policies.

“This is a big-tent party. There is plenty of room for different policies disputes in this party,” Ryan told reporters. “The goal here is to unify the party around common principles so that we can go forward and unify.”

Later Wednesday, Ryan hosted a group of nine Trump supporters who encouraged him to back the likely nominee. They were: Reps. DesJarlais, Chris Collins (R-N.Y), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), Tom Marino (R-Pa.), Reed, Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaHead of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 GOP trading fancy offices, nice views for life in minority MORE (R-Pa.).

This story was updated at 8:24 a.m.