Senate

Skittish GOP to Trump: Drop the insults

Greg Nash

Fearful for their majority, Senate Republicans on Thursday plan to urge Donald Trump to set aside personal insults and focus on the economy as he runs for the White House.

It will be the first meeting between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), one of the nation’s most disciplined politicians, and Trump, one of the most unpredictable.

{mosads}McConnell is the highest-ranking Republican in Congress to have endorsed his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, who has divided lawmakers with his controversial stances. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who is also meeting with Trump Thursday, is still holding back his support. 

The Senate Republican leader won’t say what’s on his agenda for the meeting, but his colleagues say the economy and keeping control of the chamber will top the list. 

Other members of Senate GOP leadership want McConnell to draw out more details from Trump on his policy views, especially his understanding of the Constitution and how he views the role of the federal government. 

Republican lawmakers see Trump’s abrasive style as his biggest liability heading into the general election, even though his knack for putting down rivals helped him win more primaries and votes than anyone else in the party.

“If you look at what people care most about, it’s jobs and the economy,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas), who will attend Thursday’s meeting with Trump along with other members of Senate GOP leadership.

Cornyn said the question of how Trump can help Republicans keep their majority “is certainly at the top of my list.”

He said the biggest contribution the billionaire can make is to “run and win.” 

Trump is seen as a liability for many vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was recorded telling supporters during a private fundraiser that Trump would hurt his reelection chances.

Altogether, at least 10 GOP leaders will meet with Trump at the National Republican Senatorial Committee  (NRSC) headquarters at 11:45 a.m. Thursday.

Along with McConnell and Cornyn, Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), Vice Chairman Roy Blunt (Mo.), Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.) and NRSC Chairman Roger Wicker (Miss.) will sit down with the presumptive nominee.

Senate president pro tempore Orrin Hatch (Utah) and three of McConnell’s leadership counselers, Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Deb Fischer (Neb.) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), will also attend.

Senate Republicans want Trump to focus on the economy instead of hurling insults at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, whom he has taken to calling “Crooked Hillary.”

“The way to differentiate from Hillary Clinton and to bring the party together is to get folks focused on the economy,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), adding that the conversation needs to shift “back to the issues.”

“It needs to be back on GDP, which we cannot afford to continue to have sub 

1 percent,” he added.

McConnell addressed the recent slowdown in growth during a floor speech Wednesday.

“Median household incomes have shrunk under this president. Too many Americans have given up even looking for work altogether after years of failed attempts. One survey found more than half of Americans saying that the next generation will be worse off than them financially,” he said.

One Republican senator said if Trump were to drop divisive subjects, such as his claim that Mexico has purposefully sent its criminals across the southern border, and focus exclusively on the economy, he’d have a better chance of winning in November.

“If he were to just hit the economy every day and stress his business background and say Hillary Clinton’s just more of the same, you never know,” said the senator.

Lawmakers also want Trump to change his tone, which so alienated rivals that leading party figures such as Mitt Romney and the Bush family, which includes two former presidents, have so far refused to endorse him.

“I need to hear more from Donald Trump on his vision for this country beyond his slogan and he needs to articulate what a Trump presidency would look like,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

“He also needs to knock off the gratuitous personal insults and to do a lot more outreach, including to the Muslim community.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said, “How candidates say things matters. Words are important.”

“It’s not my style and I think it puts off an awful lot of people,” Cornyn said of Trump’s pugnacious approach to politics.

At the same time, Cornyn acknowledged that Trump’s success was difficult to argue with.

“I don’t know what you say if a guy keeps winning,” he added.

Hatch said he would advise Trump to take a more conciliatory approach on the campaign trail.

“There’s a way of getting there and that’s by opening up and being decent,” he said. “What I mean by that is understand that other people have viewpoints too. You need to work with people because this is not a one-man show.”

Even Republicans who were sympathetic to the Never Trump movement before it collapsed have begun to warm up to the real estate mogul because of what they see as potentially the defining issue of the election: the balance of the Supreme Court.

In a bid to shore up conservative support, Trump reiterated this week he would appoint conservatives to the high court.

Trump told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly Tuesday that he plans to nominate justices who would likely overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that established a right to abortion.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Republicans are by and large comfortable with the prospect of Trump picking the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s successor.

Grassley said he’s more concerned about Trump’s murky ideological views on other issues.

“The advice I would give Trump is, tell the American people your basic philosophy of government, your understanding of the Constitution and more policy,” he said.

Grassley said the presumptive standard-bearer has made his court views clear by expressing a desire to nominate conservative judges in the mold of Bill Pryor of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and Diane Sykes of the 7th Circuit.

Tags Chuck Grassley Deb Fischer Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jerry Moran John Barrasso John Cornyn John McCain John Thune Mitch McConnell Orrin Hatch Paul Ryan Rob Portman Roger Wicker Roy Blunt Shelley Moore Capito Susan Collins

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