From Washington Post
Donald Trump’s private meeting Thursday with Senate Republicans — designed to foster greater party unity ahead of the national convention in Cleveland — grew combative as the presumptive presidential nominee admonished three senators who have been critical of his candidacy and predicted they would lose their reelection bids, according to two Republican officials with direct knowledge of the exchanges.
Trump’s most tense exchange was with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has been vocal in his concerns about the business mogul’s candidacy, especially his rhetoric and policies on immigration that the senator argues alienate many Latino voters and others in Arizona.
When Flake stood up and introduced himself, Trump told him, “You’ve been very critical of me.”
“Yes, I’m the other senator from Arizona — the one who didn’t get captured — and I want to talk to you about statements like that,” Flake responded, according to two Republican officials.
Flake was referencing Trump’s comments last summer about the military service of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict. Trump questioned whether McCain was a war hero because he was captured.
Flake told Trump that he wants to be able to support him — “I’m not part of the Never Trump movement,” the senator said — but that he remains uncomfortable backing his candidacy, the officials said.
Trump said at the meeting that he has yet to attack Flake hard but threatened to begin doing so. Flake stood up to Trump by urging him to stop attacking Mexicans. Trump predicted that Flake would lose his reelection, at which point Flake informed Trump that he was not on the ballot this year, the sources said.
Asked in a Senate hallway later about his exchange with Trump, Flake declined to elaborate.
“No, I’ll just leave it,” he told reporters, adding: “My position remains, I want to support the nominee. I really do. I just can’t support him given the things that he’s said.”
Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign’s chairman and senior strategist, who attended the meeting, disputed the characterization of it as contentious.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Manafort said: “Today’s meeting was positive and productive and these characterizations, attributed to unnamed sources, are wholly inaccurate. The conversation was very positive and substantive. The Members were in total agreement with Mr. Trump of the need to unite the Party and work together to win the Presidency and keep a Republican Congress. Mr. Trump was pleased with the discussion and looks forward to working together with the Republican Party leadership towards defeating Hillary Clinton in November.”
Trump also called out Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — who withdrew his endorsement of Trump last month, citing the business mogul’s racially based attacks on a federal judge — and said he did not approve of the senator’s action, the officials said.
Characterizing Kirk as a loser, Trump vowed that he would carry Illinois in the general election even though the state traditionally has been solidly Democratic in presidential contests. Kirk did not attend the meeting with Trump.
Asked later in the day about Trump’s comments, Kirk declined to comment other than to say, “I guess he lit me up.”
Trump also singled out Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who has refused to support Trump and has emerged as perhaps the most vocal advocate for a third-party candidate. Sasse declined to speak with reporters as he left the meeting.
“Senator Sasse went to today’s meeting ready to listen. Senator Sasse introduced himself to Mr. Trump, and the two had a gracious exchange,” said James Wegmann, the senator’s spokesman. “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’s trip to Washington on Thursday highlighted the continuing concerns among congressional Republicans over controversial remarks he continues to deliver on the campaign trail and how they may affect GOP members facing tough reelection battles in the fall.
Before his meeting with Senate Republicans, Trump visited with the House GOP conference in what leaders billed as a chance for rank-and-file members to get to know the party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
“What I thought was especially helpful today was our members just got access and got to ask their questions and talk about their issues,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). “I thought he did a great job engaging with our members, and I think our members appreciated it.”
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