Pence to House GOP: Trump needs your help

Pence to House GOP: Trump needs your help
© Greg Nash

Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence huddled with more than 200 House Republicans in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, seeking to assuage lawmakers still skeptical of Donald Trump.

The visit represented a sort of homecoming for Pence, a former congressman who worked his way up to a House GOP leadership post. He was introduced by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and received several standing ovations at the Capitol Hill Club powwow.  

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The Indiana governor's pitch was simple and straightforward: Give us your input on personnel and policy ideas and help us win.

“Trump is one of the most gracious and considerate people I've ever been around in public life,” Pence told his former colleagues, according to sources in the room.

“Trump is a good man. He has a Reagan-like vision for the future of our country. Many of the criticisms of Trump were also thrown at Reagan. And he needs our help to close this election out to victory.”

Most of the hourlong meeting just blocks from the Capitol was described as light and optimistic.

But there was one uncomfortable exchange: Rep. Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryHouse Appropriations passes defense bill that would limit funds for border wall, pull US support from Yemen war Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Nearly 40 percent of species worldwide face extinction — unless we reverse wildlife crisis MORE (R-Neb.) told Pence that his daughter believed Trump hated women, according to a source in the room. Pence responded by saying the Trump campaign is unveiling a child care proposal on Tuesday.

It was Pence's first formal visit to Capitol Hill since Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, tapped him in July as his running mate. Before the full conference meeting, Pence huddled privately with Ryan, the party's 2012 vice presidential nominee and Pence’s good friend, who served a dozen years with him in the House.

“I will always be a man of the House,” Pence said as he stepped to the microphone in front of the room.

Ryan has had a frosty relationship with Trump for the past year. The Speaker has blasted Trump’s proposed ban on allowing Muslims to enter the country as “unconstitutional,” condemned Trump for not forcefully disavowing support from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and criticized Trump for inciting violence at some of his rallies.

Ryan eventually came around and endorsed Trump, arguing that he’s much more likely to enact GOP policies than Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Top Trump ally says potential Amash presidential bid could be problematic in Michigan Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently MORE. But there has been no warmth between the two men, and Trump briefly flirted with backing Ryan’s GOP primary opponent before eventually supporting the Speaker.

When Trump visited Capitol Hill, there was no joint press conference with the Speaker, and the two have not appeared publicly side by side.

Ryan is much closer to and more comfortable with Pence, something that was on display during a press conference after the meeting with House Republicans.

Ryan and his entire GOP leadership team stepped before the cameras and held a joint news conference. The Speaker joked with reporters as he and Pence took questions, and Pence showered Ryan with praise when he was asked about Ryan’s criticisms of Trump.

“For us, Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceBolton presses Iran to withdraw forces from Syria, areas of conflict EXCLUSIVE: Trump accuses Biden of lying about Obama's lack of endorsement Leaked Trump transition vetting documents show numerous officials with 'red flags': Axios MORE is a friend,” Ryan told reporters.

Pence plans to hold several one-on-one meetings on Capitol Hill, including with Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Hickenlooper, Bennet bring deep ties to 2020 debate stage 2020 Democrat Bennet releases comprehensive government reform plan GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R-Texas). Neither Lee nor Cruz, his close ally and Trump's top rival in the GOP presidential primaries, have endorsed the businessman for president.

Pence then will have lunch with Senate Republicans.

— Cristina Marcos contributed to this report, which was updated at 11:57 a.m.