GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump met with current and former members of Congress Monday to talk about unifying Republican around his candidacy so they can focus on defeating the likely Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in November.
“People up here need to take a look at what’s happening and probably get used to the idea that it’s very likely Donald Trump” who will be the Republican nominee, Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., told reporters after the meeting.
Trump is “a different style of politician,” DesJarlais added. “It takes some getting used to. And I think that we’ll see that moving forward.”
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DesJarlais, who said it was his first time sitting down with the billionaire businessman, was one of a handful of Trump supporters who attended the meeting. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Reps. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., all of whom have endorsed Trump, were among the lawmakers present. “It was a great meeting and there will be more,” Marino said afterwards.
The meeting did not draw GOP’s top leaders on Capitol Hill: Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, but Trump said at a news conference that nothing should be inferred from their absence.
“Many of the people that I watch on television that are supporting somebody else are supporting me — or they really want to support me,” he said.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who has yet to endorse a candidate, attended Monday’s meeting. His spokeswoman said Cotton remains neutral in the presidential race but is focused on Republicans winning the White House and retaining their Senate majority.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former Appropriations chairman Bob Livingston were among the attendees. Gingrich didn’t say much to reporters after the meeting other than it was “good.”
Livingston said he is now supporting Trump after having voted for someone else. The one-time chairman of the House Appropriations Committee now runs the lobby shop Livingston Group, where his recent clients have included Airbus Group Inc., Citigroup and Oracle Corp., among others, congressional lobbying reports show.
Although Trump said his campaign would provide a list of attendees, officials had not returned a request for the list as of press time.
DesJarlais said there were a few dozen attendees, including several non-elected figures who are influential in the party. Trump was “very interactive with everyone in the room” during the meeting, taking dozens of questions, he said.
“I think that you’re going to see more meetings like this in Washington, and I think you’re going to see bigger attendance,” DesJarlais said, noting that Trump realizes its important for him to reach out to GOP lawmakers.
Collins said that, in addition to Trump supporters. there were lawmakers present who are “testing the water.” He said some members support Trump over Cruz but haven’t taken an official stand.
“This was a very quickly called impromptu meeting — just called about 24 hours ago — so it was very good turn out for that,” Collins said.
Collins said jobs, the Supreme Court vacancy and national defense were among the topics discussed at the meeting.
“It was 30,000-foot level about the importance of national defense and really all of us understanding his positions on national defense,” he said. “And certainly his meeting today with AIPAC shows the importance that he puts on the Middle East.”
Trump was to speak later in the day at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.
Trump told attendees at the private GOP meeting that he would nominate a conservative justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, Collins said.
The violence that has erupted at many of Trump’s campaign rallies was barely discussed, Collins and DesJarlais said.
“We didn’t talk about those other to say it’s obvious these are organized, MoveOn.org, Democrat, left leaning protesters who are just getting started, and they’re training for what America is going to see as this election moves into a general election,” Collins said. He noted that Trump has said he would never condone violence.
Overall, the meeting served as the beginning of a transition in bringing the rest of the Republican Party on board with the Trump campaign, Collins said.
“The best way to unify the party is to win and win big, as we’re going to see that in Wisconsin,” he said. “I think we’ll see that in Arizona. I know you’re going to see that in New York, where I’m from, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”
Niels Lesniewski, Bridget Bowman, and Kate Ackley contributed to this report.
Contact McPherson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lindsemcpherson.
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