Donald Trump came to Washington seeking greater party unity, but he ended up showing some cracks in the relationship instead.
Some prominent Republican lawmakers who have been critical of Trump’s campaign opted to skip the two meetings, while others who did attend found themselves sparring with the presumptive GOP nominee. Still others came out of the meeting praising him.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, who has been harshly critical of Trump, left the meeting early and declined to talk to reporters.
‘“Senator Sasse went to today’s meeting ready to listen,” his spokesman told TIME in an email. “Senator Sasse introduced himself to Mr. Trump and the two had a gracious exchange. 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.”
Trump also had tense exchanges with Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who withdrew his endorsement of Trump in June, and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who has criticized his rhetoric on Hispanic immigrants, according to the Washington Post.
“Today’s thing was basically a stream of consciousness and talking about a ton of polls and dozens of topics, much like his rallies,” a source with knowledge of the meeting told TIME. “At one point Trump claimed insider knowledge of the Clinton camp’s SCOTUS vetting process. And in that context he said something to Sasse, like ‘Surely you don’t want Clinton.’”
Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte did not attend the meeting, while Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quietly left early.
With a line of cameras tracking them, Republican Senators who did attend filed one-by-one out of the Ronald Reagan Republican Chamber, home to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “I think you’re seeing the process of unification start,” said South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said. “Mr. Trump spoke and took questions. He helped himself quite a bit,” said Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker.
Across the street, protesters held cardboard cutouts of Republican Senators facing re-election this fall including Rubio, McCain, Ayotte, Pat Toomey and Rob Portman. They chanted “Small hands, bad plans” and “T-R-U-M-P, that’s how you spell bigotry!” as reporters sweat and police dogs panted in the capital’s 90-degree heat. The owner of the Exxon Mobil gas station up the street said the attention was great for business.
Zeke Miller contributed to this report.
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