An in-person meeting with Donald Trump on Thursday did little to change the minds of most South Carolina’s Republican lawmakers in Washington, who continue to waver over how warmly to embrace their party’s presumptive nominee.
“It was interesting, I didn’t hear anything I hadn’t heard before. Glad I came, and there were some interesting questions from my colleagues,” Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said as he exited the closed-door meeting where Trump received about 200 House Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who has expressed reservations about Trump in the past, said his concerns “are probably still there” after the meeting.
I think we’re moving in the right direction.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
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“I like much of what he says, but I’m very concerned about the way he says it,” Sanford explained. “I think the room was generally receptive, and there are some folks who still have questions. I remain one of them based on tone and tenor.”
Sanford summarized the meeting, saying Trump spoke “for about 20 minutes” and then took what Sanford described as “fairly gentle questions, nothing particularly probing.”
No one asked about recent controversies or pressed Trump for his choice for vice president. Trump acknowledged that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., called him the morning after he’d made controversial remarks seemingly praising Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for being tough on terrorists.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., described Trump’s separate meeting with Republican senators as “cordial” and “meaty” on policy and said he thought it had been effective in swaying some senators to be less skeptical toward Trump’s candidacy.
“From my perspective we’re making progress in the right direction,” Scott said as he walked back to his Senate office from the meeting at the National Republican Senatorial Committee offices a few blocks from the Capitol. “I think you’re seeing the process of unification start.”
Scott said the reality of Trump’s candidacy was simple.
“People are frustrated, their incomes are down, some are becoming disillusioned, and they’re looking for someone to rally around. Donald Trump has done a very good job […] of being the force that people coalesce around,” he said, adding that while Trump can be controversial and “at times prickly,” many Americans think he’s better than the alternative.
At some point the nominee needs to get to know the Republican conference because if in fact he wins, this is the team that will make his agenda happen.
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.
“He connects with the average person because people don’t want politically correct language leading the way,” he said. “They want someone who has real solutions and it appears to me that lots of folks believe that, as opposed to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump has more solutions.”
South Carolina’s other Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham, has said he will not be voting for Trump and did not attend Thursday’s meeting. Neither did Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., said the bombastic businessman, who even for his standards had a controversy-filled week between doubling down on a tweet that was widely denounced as anti-Semitic and the comments about Hussein, tried to allay lawmakers’ fears “with some success.”
“They were asking about the Supreme Court, they were asking about his positions on immigration, they were asking about his position on the economy,” Rice said, listing his colleagues’ questions. Rice said Trump’s answers did not differ from what he said in the primaries.
“I think that’s what people love about him, that what you see is what you get,” Rice said. “He’s our nominee and I’m supporting him.”
William Douglas contributed to this report.