Donald Trump arrived in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to meet with his party’s congressional leaders to hash out their differences and talk GOP unity ahead of what is likely to be a pitched general-election battle against Hillary Clinton.
First up was a private meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan. The two arrived around 9 a.m. ET at the Republican National Committee in a session orchestrated by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
Swarms of journalists, protesters and onlookers crowded around the building just behind the U.S. Capitol. The crazy scene included a Trump impersonator in a huge piñata mask mocking Trump on a megaphone, immigration activists, signs that read “Trump is a racist” and “Islamophobia is un-American,” and chants of “GOP RIP, GOP RIP.”
Leaders entered through the back door, avoiding a media scrum of 50 or so reporters.
Ryan sent shock waves through the GOP when he announced last week that he was not yet ready to embrace the New York businessman as the GOP standard-bearer.
“It’s going to take more than a week just to repair and unify this party,” Ryan told the Wall Street Journal in a Facebook Live interview. “If we just pretend we’re unified without actually unifying, then we’ll be at half-strength in the fall, and that won’t go well for us.”
Ryan told reporters that he does not really know Trump. They met briefly in 2012 when Ryan ran on Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket. The two men also spoke on the phone in March.
Ryan said the meeting is, in part, a relationship-building exercise. He told reporters Wednesday that he does not expect he will change Trump’s mind on policy matters where they disagree, but he wants the Trump wing and the Ryan wing of the party to work together this fall.
“This is a big-tent party,” Ryan said. “There is room for different policy disputes in this party. We come from different wings of the party. The goal here is to unify the various wings of the party around common principles so we can go forward unified.”
Trump initially dissed Ryan for not endorsing his campaign, but he offered a more conciliatory tone in an interview with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly.
“I have a lot of respect for Paul, and I think we are going to have a very good meeting,” Trump said.
Asked if he expected Ryan to “fall in line” and endorse him, Trump responded: “I don’t think ‘fall into line’ is the right words. I think he loves this party, he loves this country, and he wants to see something good happen.”
Trump is also expected to meet with the House GOP leadership team. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., have endorsed Trump. House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the highest-ranking GOP woman in Congress, has not. Like Ryan, she says she wants to meet with Trump before she makes that call.
Trump will then meet with Senate GOP leaders. Unlike Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., quickly announced his support for Trump after the candidate’s decisive victory in the May 4 Indiana primary that made his nomination a foregone conclusion.
“I think most of our members believe that he’s won the nomination the old-fashioned way: He got more votes than anybody else,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday, “and we respect the voices of the Republican primary voters across the country.”
Jessica Taylor and Sarah McCammon contributed.