Senate GOP leaders dodge questions on Mitt Romney comment

Senate Republican leaders escaped answering questions in front of TV cameras on Mitt Romney's controversial "47 percent" remarks on Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Republicans did not address with members of the press — or collectively behind closed doors — the elephant in the ornate room where the party holds its weekly caucus luncheon, its first group meeting since the GOP presidential nominee's comments were leaked earlier this week.

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In a departure from standard operating procedure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump hints at new executive action on immigration, wants filibuster-proof Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump MORE (R-Ky.) highlighted a report in The New York Times – a favorite GOP “whipping boy” publication — and the senators who joined him at the mics turned on their respective heels promptly after delivering their prepared statements.

For his part, McConnell cited a Times report documenting the current Congress as the "least productive in history" and congratulated Congressional Gold Medal recipient Aung San Suu Kyi before turning the presser over to his deputy, Assistant Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and the other leaders waiting to make their statements to the cameras.

Kyl bemoaned the impending consequences should Congress fail to address the coming "fiscal cliff" of spending cuts and tax hikes, and then GOP Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWant to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches More Dems want focus on job creation than wage growth Google, Apple, Amazon execs to testify at Senate privacy hearing this month MORE (R-S.D.), GOP Policy Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Push to change wildlife act sparks lobbying blitz House and Senate negotiators reach agreement on water infrastructure bill MORE (R-Wyo.) and GOP Conference Vice Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Mo.) each made their statements on various issues of the day — but did not mention the presidential race.

Before reporters realized what was happening, the four statesmen dispersed from the TV news cameras permitted to shoot the weekly post-luncheon GOP and Democratic pressers.

Their decision not to take questions on camera was an unusual departure from normal practice.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidKavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow Dems can’t ‘Bork’ Kavanaugh, and have only themselves to blame Dem senator: Confidential documents would 'strongly bolster' argument against Kavanaugh's nomination MORE (D-Nev.), who spoke the GOP presser, answered at least a dozen questions during his time in front of the cameras.

It took a split-second for the phalanx of Capitol Hill beat reporters to realize that the GOP senators had run from the temporary podium set up in the august corridor just off the Senate floor, where the weekly pressers take place. Reporters swarmed the fleeing quartet of GOP senators to press them on Romney's remarks and whether the matter was discussed during their hour-and-a-half luncheon.

Blunt, Romney’s surrogate in the Senate, spoke to a handful of journalists 30 feet away from the temporary podium. Asked if Republican senators were concerned about Romney’s remarks to a campaign donor luncheon in Boca Raton, leaked to Mother Jones magazine, or if the legislators had discussed the matter, Blunt wouldn’t say.

“Whether there was discussion at the lunch or not, I wouldn’t want to say,” Blunt said, “just because I really don’t think we ought to talk about what was discussed at the lunch.”

He proceeded to say, however, that he does not think the matter “is of great concern to members of the Senate: it could have been better said, as Governor Romney himself said.”

Romney said in remarks captured covertly on video that almost half the country is "dependent on government" and believes the government "has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you name it." He also said that 47 percent will "vote for this president no matter what."

A brief time later, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Another recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief R-E-S-P-E-C-T: One legacy of Franklin and McCain is up to us MORE (R-Ariz.) indicated to The Hill that the matter was not discussed at the luncheon.