WASHINGTON, July 7 (UPI) — Seeking to unite his party ahead of the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump met with nearly 200 House Republican lawmakers in Washington on Thursday, pledging to secure the nation’s borders and lead the party to victory in the fall.
Trump was accompanied to the question-and-answer session by his daughter, Ivanka, and his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. He was introduced by conservative CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow. The presumptive Republican nominee received two standing ovations, one when he entered the room and a second after Kudlow’s brief introduction, according to Politico.
Trump spoke for about 20 minutes before opening up to questions from lawmakers for another 40 minutes.
During his remarks, Trump boasted of a $50 million fundraising haul in June and assailed the media for what he said was dishonest reporting about him, including the recent controversial remarks where he appeared to offer praise for former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, The Hill reported.
“I said, ‘Hussein was a very, very bad man, but the one thing he did very well was kill terrorists,'” Trump said. “The next day I wake up to headlines that say ‘Trump praises Hussein.’ The media is totally disingenuous.”
Thursday was the first time Trump has been invited to address the full House Republican caucus. He has previously visited Capitol Hill for meetings with House leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump was scheduled to hold a similar session with Senate Republicans later Thursday.
His reception from the lower chamber was mixed.
Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., director of the House Republican Policy Committee, said he was impressed by the version of Trump he saw in person, versus his stage persona.
“Frankly he was very impressive,” Messer said to reporters afterward. “My hope is that moving forward … the public Trump starts to look more like the private Trump. If that happens, he can win.”
Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., who has endorsed Trump, called the meeting a “get to know me session” for Republicans who have never met Trump.
“It’s going to be more of an introductory meeting for members who are not on board or who are not yet there,” Barletta told Politico before the sit-down. “So I’m expecting people to walk away with a much different opinion than they had. They will see a man more business-like, more boardroom-like. A Donald Trump that wants to hear people’s opinions and no so much what they see on TV.”
That was not the outcome for at least one Republican lawmaker in attendance, who said afterward the meeting was “really awkward” and about 40 members of the caucus avoided the meeting.
Rep. Adam Kitzinger, R-Ill., who has yet to say whether he will support his party’s presumptive nominee, said he was no closer to doing so after the in-person pitch.
“There was a lack of enthusiasm, you could feel it,” Kinzinger said, describing the remarks as “typical Donald Trump.”
Kitzinger said Trump’s defense of the Hussein comments in particular was “awkward … it was really awkward.”