Washington, D.C. — It was billed as an attempt to win new supporters from the ranks of congressional Republicans. But after Donald Trump convened a handful of lawmakers and a number of party luminaries for lunch on Monday, the sole attendee not already backing Trump’s candidacy emerged as uncommitted as he’d gone in.
Held in D.C.’s high-powered Jones Day law firm, the confab was supposed to be a congressional outreach effort, but only one attendee — Senator Tom Cotton — was neutral on Trump’s candidacy. The others — including Senator Jeff Sessions and Representatives Chris Collins, Scott DesJarlais, Renee Ellmers, Tom Reed, Duncan Hunter, and Tom Marino — have all either endorsed Trump or voted for him in their state’s primary.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint were also on hand for the lunch. But no leadership member from either chamber joined the gathering, suggesting that Trump has yet to make inroads with those in the party’s highest strata.
Lawmakers in attendance, speaking with reporters afterward, emphasized the need for the rest of the congressional GOP to rally around Trump’s candidacy.
“It’s obvious that Mr. Trump will be our nominee,” Collins said. “This was the beginning . . . of a transition to bring the rest of the party in to unite with us against Hillary Clinton.”
“The best way to unify the party is to win, and to win big,” Collins added.
DesJarlais, attempting to snake through the throngs of reporters, said the gathering was geared toward “growing a coalition here for Mr. Trump.” He called the meeting “very interactive” with “dozens” of questions and opinions offered by attendees on everything from foreign policy to the Supreme Court.
#share#Collins, DesJarlais, and Marino were the only lawmakers to descend the front staircase of Jones Day and take questions from reporters. Gingrich, holding hands with his wife, Callista, left from the front entrance, but refused to answer any questions. Off on the sidelines, a representative from #NeverTrump PAC, which is spearheading the anti-Trump movement, handed out red stickers emblazoned with the group’s #NeverTrump logo.
The Jones Day meeting comes in advance of Trump’s highly anticipated speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Policy Conference this evening. The real-estate mogul’s congressional supporters came away from the meeting assuring reporters of his foreign-policy prowess and his support for the Jewish state.
“Mr. Trump is . . . the one person who will stand up to Vladimir Putin, he is the one person who will not kowtow to Raul Castro,” Collins said. “If there’s one person we know is going to keep America safe and strong . . . it’s Donald Trump.”
#related#Ultimately, the meeting garnered Trump no new support from sitting lawmakers — a spokesperson for Cotton said that the Arkansas senator has not yet made an endorsement decision. But it did emerge that the Republican front-runner had earned the backing of former Representative Bob Livingston, the man who was once slated to succeed Gingrich as Speaker of the House until an extramarital affair ended his political career.
Livingston told reporters that although he had voted for a different candidate in his state’s primary — he declined to name names — he was now wholly behind Trump. “The guy’s a bright, charismatic guy, and the American people like him,” Livingston said. “That ought to say enough.”
— Elaina Plott is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.