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Donald Trump seeks GOP unity in Capitol Hill meetings

By Eric DuVall
Presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald Trump speaks at a press conference in May. On Thursday, Trump met with the House Republican caucus and with Republican senators in an effort to unite the party ahead of its convention later this month. File Photo by Bryan R. Smith/UPI
Presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald Trump speaks at a press conference in May. On Thursday, Trump met with the House Republican caucus and with Republican senators in an effort to unite the party ahead of its convention later this month. File Photo by Bryan R. Smith/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, July 7 (UPI) -- Seeking to unite his party ahead of the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump met with nearly 200 House Republicans and dozens of senators on Capitol Hill on Thursday, pledging to lead the party to victory in the fall presidential election.

Trump first met with House Republicans, accompanied to by his daughter, Ivanka, and his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. He was introduced by conservative CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow. The presumptive Republican nominee for president received two standing ovations, one when he entered the room and a second after Kudlow's brief introduction, Politico reported.

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Trump spoke for about 20 minutes before opening up to questions from lawmakers for another 40 minutes.

Trump told members of Congress his campaign will be competitive in several states traditionally won handily by Democrats, including Oregon, Washington state, Michigan and Connecticut. No Republican has carried any of those states since landslide victories by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in 1984 and 1988.

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According to Republicans in attendance, Trump cited a poll that showed him running ahead in Oregon, a state Barack Obama won by 15 points in 2012, and in a close race in other traditional blue states.

During his remarks, Trump boasted of a $50 million fundraising haul in June and assailed the media for what he said was dishonest reporting about him, including recent remarks appearing to praise former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, The Hill reported.

"I said, 'Hussein was a very, very bad man, but the one thing he did very well was kill terrorists,'" Trump said. "The next day I wake up to headlines that say 'Trump praises Hussein.' The media is totally disingenuous."

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Thursday was the first time Trump has been invited to address the full House Republican caucus. He has previously visited Capitol Hill for meetings with House leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump was scheduled to hold a similar session with Senate Republicans later Thursday.

Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., director of the House Republican Policy Committee, said he was impressed by the version of Trump he saw in person, versus his stage persona.

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"Frankly he was very impressive," Messer said to reporters afterward. "My hope is that moving forward ... the public Trump starts to look more like the private Trump. If that happens, he can win."

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Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., who has endorsed Trump, called the meeting a "get to know me session" for Republicans who have never met Trump.

"It's going to be more of an introductory meeting for members who are not on board or who are not yet there," Barletta told Politico before the sit-down. "So I'm expecting people to walk away with a much different opinion than they had. They will see a man more business-like, more boardroom-like. A Donald Trump that wants to hear people's opinions and no so much what they see on TV."

That was not the outcome for at least one Republican lawmaker in attendance, who said afterward the meeting was "really awkward." About 40 members of the caucus skipped the meeting.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who has yet to say whether he will support Trump, said he was no closer to doing so after the in-person pitch.

"There was a lack of enthusiasm, you could feel it," Kinzinger said, describing the remarks as "typical Donald Trump."

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Kinzinger said Trump's defense of the Hussein comments in particular was "awkward ... it was really awkward."

After his meeting with members of the House at the Capitol Hill Club, Trump traveled to Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee headquarters, where he met with most of the GOP's Senate majority, though some incumbents facing re-election skipped the sit-down.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the No. 2 member of the caucus, called the meeting "candid." Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed, saying it was "a good meeting."

The New York Times reports the meeting was not without its flash points, however. Trump reportedly denounced Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who is locked in a tough re-election campaign and rescinded his endorsement of Trump over the candidate's critical comments about a judge with Mexican heritage. Kirk told the Times it was his understanding Trump had called him "a loser" who would likely not hold his seat in November.

Two other senators who have pointedly declined to endorse Trump were in attendance: Nebraska's Ben Sasse and Arizona's Jeff Flake. Flake pressed Trump on his controversial comments likening some Mexicans to "rapists" and "murderers," with Trump largely declining to answer, the Times reported.

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Politico reported Trump singled out Sasse in the meeting, saying "you must want Hillary." Sasse, who has publicly lamented the lack of a third-party conservative candidate, told reporters afterward he was "happy to listen."

Later, Sasse's spokesman called the general election matchup between Trump and Hillary Clinton a "Dumpster fire."

"Mr. Sasse continues to believe that our country is in a bad place and, with these two candidates, this election remains a Dumpster fire. Nothing has changed," spokesman James Wegmann said..

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