Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan struck a conciliatory tone after meeting in Washington Thursday, seeking to ease tensions that flared last week when Ryan said he is not ready to endorse the business mogul in his bid for the White House.
“While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground,” Trump and Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a joint statement shortly after their meeting at the Republican National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill. “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.”
Despite the positive tone of the statement, Ryan did not say he now supports Trump as the party’s nominee.
Speaking to reporters from the Capitol later in the morning, the speaker said he was “encouraged” by the conversation.
“It’s no secret that Donald trump and I have had our differences. We talked about those differences today,” he said. “The question is what is it that we need to do to unify the Republican Party and all strains of conservative wings of the party. It was important that we discussed our differences that we have, but it was also important that we discuss the core principles that tie us together.”
Ryan said the next step is to drill down on policy differences to find commonalities.
“Going forward we’re going to go a little deeper in the policy weeds to make sure we have a better understanding of one another,” he said.
Ryan called unifying the party “a process” and said it would “take some time” before the it comes together.
“I don’t want us to have a fake unification process here,” he said. “I want to make sure that we really and truly understand each other.”
Trump’s face-to-face with Ryan was the first of several high-profile sit downs with Republican leaders that come as the campaign seeks to unite the party — and its resources — ahead of a competitive general election.
The summit between Ryan and Trump was cast as an opportunity to soothe tensions between Trump and the GOP establishment at a pivotal moment for a party sharply divided over the likely nominee’s unorthodox and controversial campaign.
The day of meetings began at 9 a.m. when Trump met with Ryan and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, after which he met with the full House GOP leadership team.
Shortly after 10 a.m., Priebus tweeted out that the meeting was “great.”
“They had very good chemistry between the two of them,” he said later on CNN. “It was positive and it was give and take. If anyone was a fly on the wall, they would agree with what I’m saying.”
He declined to say whether Ryan, a close ally, would soon endorse Trump.
Priebus sought to portray Trump as representing the values of the Republican Party, despite concerns over his positions on government spending and immigration.
“He’s in line with the platform,” Priebus told MSNBC. “There’s never 100 percent unanimity in anything… Like Reagan said, my 80 percent friend is not my 20 percent enemy. We believe that.”
Trump left the RNC shortly before 11 a.m., waving at reporters from the back seat of his black suburban. He met later in the morning with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his top associates.
The streets outside Republican National Committee headquarters assumed a circus-like atmosphere Thursday morning. Dozens of cameras staked out every entrance to the building, satellite trucks lined the nearby streets and passersby gawked at the spectacle.
At one point, a man wearing a portable megaphone and a papier mache Trump head walked down First Street SE carrying a brown paper sack with a dollar sign on it.
“The Donald has spoken, and the GOP is listening!” he shouted as photographers swarmed around him.
As he shook his bags of money and made campaign promises like giving all women free manicures and pedicures, Trump supporter Johnny Rice stood in front of him with a mega-horn and sang religious songs in an attempt to drown out the protester. He then switched to sounding a ram’s horn that he bought on eBay.
“Okay: Believe in spiritual or don’t believe in spiritual, God spoke to me and said that he was raising up Trump to trump the evil government of Obama,” said Rice, 48, who lives in Maryland.
A small group of protesters gathered in front of the RNC, several carrying yellow and black signs reading: “GOP + Trump, Dangerous, Divisive, Deceitful.” Immigration activists took turns on a bullhorn, sharing their personal stories and leading the group in chants. “Undocumented, unafraid” and “No papers, no fear,” they chanted.
Two activists from Code Pink held pink signs reading “Islamophobia is UnAmerican” and “Trump is a racist.” The group held up a red cardboard coffin that they said represented the death of the Republican Party and “all of the injustice” it has directed at minorities.
The Ryan and Trump camps engaged in a war of words last week after the speaker declared that he was “just not ready” to support Trump as the party nominee. Trump responded in a statement that he was not ready “to support Speaker Ryan’s agenda.” The comments highlighted the rifts that Trump will need to overcome in coming weeks as he seeks to unify the party.
At one point there was a question over whether Ryan would step down from his role as chairman of the Republican National Convention due to his differences with Trump. On Thursday, he indicated they had put that issue behind them.
“I am happy to serve in this capacity at the Republican convention,” he told reporters. “I would honor the decision of our presumptive nominee and he did express that preference.”
Trump and Ryan sought to distance themselves from their hostile exchange ahead of their sit down Thursday. Trump said Wednesday night that the purpose of the meeting with Ryan is “unity,” striking a conciliatory tone after the public spat and adding that the two are looking to get to know each other.
But tensions within the party over Trump have only worsened in the week since he effectively clinched the nomination following the departures of rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Former GOP nominee Mitt Romney, members of the Bush family and other top Republicans have declined to endorse Trump publicly. Romney, who ran in 2012 with Ryan as his running mate, blasted Trump on Wednesday for suggesting he would not release his tax returns until after the election.
The real estate mogul will need party resources behind his White House run if he hopes to run a competitive bid against likely Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The Trump campaign is finalizing plans with the RNC to set up a joint fundraising committee — a “victory fund” — to solicit donations far larger in magnitude than what the campaign itself is legally allowed to accept. The additional funds are routed to the party’s war chest then used to finance national get-out-the-vote operations.
A chief worry among congressional Republicans is that Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigration and his past disparaging comments about women will hurt GOP members in tight re-election battles this fall.
Sensing this blood in the water, congressional Democrats have eagerly attempted to portray Trump as the embodiment of what the Republican party has become.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blasted Republicans, and McConnell in particular, during a speech on the Senate floor Thursday morning.
“At some point in their conversation Donald Trump should thank the senior senator from Kentucky. Trump owes his candidacy to the Republican leader and to the policies that he’s led,” Reid said. “It was an obstructionist, anti-woman, anti-Latino, anti-Muslim, anti-middle class, anti-environment and anti-Obama and anti-everything Republican Party of the last eight years that made Donald Trump a reality.”
But this line of attack runs somewhat counter to the message from the campaign of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, which has sought to court center-right Republicans who remain uneasy about voting for Trump in the fall by pointing out how unpopular he is even within his own party.
“Since Donald Trump became the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for president last Tuesday, the chorus of Republicans and conservative commentators from around the country rejecting his unpredictable, risky and divisive candidacy has grown daily,” the Clinton campaign blasted out in a statement as Trump met with Ryan.