Inside the Republican National Committee office Thursday, Speaker Paul D. Ryan and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump discussed how to unify the party in their first face-to-face meeting, while outside, protesters and Trump supporters highlighted the difficulty of that task.
While GOP voters have embraced the billionaire mogul, whose insurgent campaign stunned one of the strongest Republican presidential fields in generations, many in the party establishment have yet to get on board . Other conservatives have been seeking a candidate to mount a third-party challenge to Trump.
With pressure on the speaker to get on the Trump bandwagon, Ryan acknowledged that Thursday’s discussion was “very encouraging” and there will be more. “This is going in a positive direction,” he said at a news conference. Republican senators, too, said they had a constructive meeting with Trump.
Yet, a path for how Ryan gets beyond the Washington pleasantries to a meaningful endorsement remains unclear.
Their divisions were amplified by the protesters outside the RNC, some of the most vocal of which were a group of Hispanics demonstrating in opposition to Trump's proposal to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
"We are the dreamers, the mighty, mighty dreamers," they chanted, referring to the Dream Act, which would allow some undocumented immigrants to work toward citizenship if they meet certain conditions. An onlooker shouted at the protesters to shut up.
Ryan voted against the Dream Act, but he does support a path to legal status for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, a wide bridge to cross to get to Trump’s plan to deport them and build a wall along the southern border.
Many of the protesters condemned Trump’s bombastic rhetoric, like a woman who carried a sign reading, “Trump is a racist.”
Ryan has spoken out against some of Trump’s most divisive remarks , like his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country.
No endorsement, yet
So while Ryan acknowledged some areas of common ground with Trump, like their interest in protecting the constitution and their anti-abortion stances, it’s not surprising he was still not ready to endorse Trump after just one meeting.
“We are now planting the seeds to get ourselves unified to bridge the gap and differences,” Ryan said at the news conference . “This is a process. It takes some time. You don’t put it together in 45 minutes.”
Trump did not address the media, but in a joint statement released with Ryan he promised further discussion of issues.
"While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground," the statement read. "We will be having additional discussions, but remain confident there’s a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall, and we are totally committed to working together to achieve that goal."
Trump’s visit included a series of three meetings just off the Capitol grounds Thursday. First, he met Ryan and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Ryan at the party headquarters. After Preibus left, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican Whip Steve Scalise and Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers joined Ryan for a second meeting with Trump.
After his visits with Ryan, Trump met just north of the Capitol at the National Republican Senatorial Committee's office for a pow-wow with Senate Republican leaders, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican described it as "very good, constructive meeting."
Other GOP senators attending included Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Roy Blunt of Missouri, and John Thune of South Dakota.
"But I don’t think you’ll ever hear that. Donald Trump and Paul Ryan will come together,” said Chris Collins, R-NY.
Other House Republicans also expressed optimism that Ryan will eventually join the masses saying, “I support the nominee.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., said he doesn’t expect further division. “Instead of the hypothetical if they don’t work it out,” he said, “I really do believe that they will.”
Ryan and House GOP leaders have shown a great commitment to bring the party together for the general election, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said, noting that the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency adds urgency to that goal.
“As a conservative, I cannot trust Donald Trump to do the right thing, [but] I most certainly can deeply trust Hillary Clinton to do the wrong thing every time,” Franks said. “Recognizing that her election means possibly the evisceration of the constitution for a generation and the undermining of this Republican for at least that long, I will not only vote for Donald Trump but I will encourage all conservatives to do the same because the stakes are so high.”
The mob scene outside RNC headquarters was a small taste of the sometimes-riotous crowds that have greeted Trump at rallies throughout the country as he picked off a full slate of primary opponents and clinched victories in one contest after another.
The commotion started early. Around 8:30 a.m., protesters with CodePink , the women-led, anti-war group, began to arrive including a man masquerading as Trump with a giant papier-mache head of the billionaire businessman and holding a bag of money.
Another throng of protesters marched up to the building around 8:40 a.m. demonstrating in opposition to Trump's proposal to deport millions of unauthorized immigrants.
There was also a minor car accident when a driver who appeared to be taking photos of the media rear-ended another car before Capitol Police moved them along.
Meanwhile, some business continued as usual.
Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta , a Trump supporter, was spotted walking his dog, and Texas GOP Rep. Ted Poe addressed a group inside Tortilla Coast, located across the street from the RNC and a frequent gathering spot for the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Some Republicans, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are supporting Trump and urging others to get behind the businessman's campaign. At the same time, other lawmakers were tiring of the Trump talk .
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., launched a strike at McConnell ahead of his meeting with Trump.
"When they get together, they can talk about their policies, about being anti-woman," Reid said. "Since Sen. McConnell has so enthusiastically embraced Trump, we can only assume he agrees with Trump's view that women are dogs and pigs."
McConnell hasn't exactly enthusiastically embraced Trump.
"I think most of our members believe that he's won the nomination the old-fashioned way. He got more votes than anybody else. And we respect the voices of the Republican primary voters across the country," he said Tuesday. "And we'll sit down and talk about the way forward."
On Thursday, he called the meeting positive and constructive. Cornyn, the majority whip and second highest ranking Republican, said Trump was very personable.
“We were interested in obviously seeing him in a relatively controlled setting as opposed to in front of 30,000 people," Cornyn told reporters Thursday.
Tone is everything
Capito and Blunt both said they planned to discuss Trump's tone at the meeting, and Cornyn said the topic did come up.
"I think he listened," Cornyn said. "Obviously he’s never run for public office before so this is new for him and for us.”
Cornyn said he specifically brought up Trump's tone when talking about illegal immigration. As a senator from a border state, Cornyn offered some advice.
"I talked a little about the reports of the Hispanic vote and the whole idea of distinguishing between illegal immigration and legal immigration," Cornyn said. "And the part I did talk about was respect that people expect and deserve when you’re talking about a very emotional issue. He listened and I thought it was very positive.”
— Kelly Mejdrich, Stephanie Akin and Bill Clark contributed to this report. Contact Lesniewski at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @nielslesniewski. Contact McPherson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @lindsemcpherson .