Pence rallies GOP before final stretch

Pence rallies GOP before final stretch

Hill Republicans who’ve been highly skeptical of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE feel good about their standard-bearer’s running mate, Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceOfficers' powerful Capitol riot testimony underscores Pelosi's partisan blunder RealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Want to improve vaccine rates? Ask for this endorsement MORE.

The Republican Party’s vice presidential nominee stormed Capitol Hill on Tuesday, holding a series of meetings to reassure Republicans fretting about the presidential ticket and its impact on the GOP’s House and Senate majorities.

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There were some notes of discord during Pence’s six-hour charm offensive. One House Republican told Pence that his daughter believes Trump hates women, while high-profile Trump critic Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThis week: Senate starts infrastructure sprint Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet MORE (R-Utah) urged Pence in a private meeting to call former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke “deplorable.”

Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzUp next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade MORE, who fought bitterly with Trump for the presidential nomination, also met privately with Pence at the Senate GOP’s campaign headquarters, but the Texas senator would not say afterward whether he planned to endorse or vote for Trump.

But overall, it was a good day for Pence, Trump and the GOP.

House and Senate Republicans offered effusive praise for Pence, the Indiana governor and former six-term congressman who served as head of the conservative Republican Study Committee and then won a leadership post as GOP conference chairman.

His visit was a homecoming of sorts — “I will always be a man of the House,” he said during one meeting — and it served as a reminder that there is an experienced, “steady hand” on the GOP ticket.

The series of meetings also came during a positive stretch for the ticket — Trump has closed the gap in national polls with Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Shontel Brown wins Ohio Democratic primary in show of establishment strength READ: Cuomo's defense against sexual harassment investigation MORE, who has been dogged by questions about using private email for State Department business, her family foundation and her recent health scare.

“It’s safe to say that the temperaments of the two [Trump and Pence] balance each other, and so that’s good,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told reporters as he left Pence’s lunch with GOP senators. “Clearly, his numbers are improving — that may be Mrs. Clinton as much as Mr. Trump — and I think that Mike is a steady hand, and folks want to see a steady hand.”

During the private meetings with House and Senate Republicans, Pence sought to humanize the brash and bombastic Manhattan billionaire and reality TV star. The governor said that he and his wife, Karen, have gotten to know a different, more compassionate side of Trump on the campaign trail, including on a trip to meet with flood victims in Louisiana.

Pence talked about Trump’s faith as well. And he gave lawmakers his personal cellphone number, encouraging them to reach out with their suggestions about personnel and policy ideas.

“Trump is one of the most gracious and considerate people I’ve ever been around in public life,” Pence told House Republicans during a closed-door meeting at the Capitol Hill Club, according to a source 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,” Pence said. “And he needs our help to close this election out to victory.”

Pence’s reception on Capitol Hill was much better than Trump’s when he visited several months ago.

During one of the meetings that day, Trump insulted several senators and tangled with Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.), who has been a frequent critic.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTo cut poverty and solve the labor shortage, enhance the Earned Income Tax Credit Wisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans RealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump MORE (Wis.), the nation’s highest-ranking elected Republican, also has had a frosty relationship with Trump throughout the 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 Duke and criticized Trump for inciting violence at some of his rallies.

Ryan eventually endorsed Trump, arguing that he’s much more likely to enact Republican policies than Clinton. 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.

But it was quickly apparent Tuesday how much more comfortable Ryan is with Pence. After Pence’s meeting with House lawmakers, he stepped out in front of the cameras with Ryan and his entire GOP leadership team. 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.

“My and Donald Trump’s respect and appreciation for Speaker Paul Ryan is boundless. Look … you’re gonna occasionally have differences of opinion. But our goals are identical,” said Pence, flanked by the GOP leadership team. “What was so inspiring to me … is how much consistency there is between Donald Trump’s vision to rebuild our military, to revive the American economy, uphold the rule of law and the agenda that House Republicans have put forward in the Better Way [plan].”

The day wasn’t all backslapping and smiles, however. During the House meeting, Rep. Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryOvernight Defense: Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill | House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors | US increases airstrikes to help Afghan forces fight Taliban US delegation departs Haiti after reports of gunshots at ex-president's funeral Biden announces delegation to attend Haitian president's funeral MORE (R-Neb.) told Pence that his daughter believed Trump hated women, according to a source in the room. Pence rebutted the claim, pointing out the Trump campaign was unveiling a child care proposal on Tuesday.

Later, on the other side of the Capitol, Lee used a private meeting to urge Pence to call Duke “deplorable.” Pence had refused to use that term during a Monday interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, saying he’s “not in the name-calling business.” But Pence told reporters Tuesday that both he and Trump had rejected Duke’s support on numerous occasions.

“Lee emphasized that Republicans must identify David Duke’s racism as deplorable, acknowledging that he ordinarily uses terms like ‘deplorable’ to describe messages, ideas, actions and organizations, but not people,” said Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee, who was a top surrogate for Cruz during the GOP presidential primaries.

As Cruz left the Senate luncheon later Tuesday, he called Pence a “good friend” and “strong conservative” but repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether he planned to endorse or vote for Trump. Cruz was booed off the stage in July when he refused to endorse Trump during his speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Instead, Cruz took aim Tuesday at Clinton and her recent description of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.”

“Recent weeks have made clear that Hillary Clinton is manifestly unfit to be president of the United States,” Cruz told reporters.

Jordain Carney and Cristina Marcos contributed.