WASHINGTON — The GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, visited Capitol Hill on Thursday to hold court with congressional Republicans — including U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford and several others from South Carolina.
It was Trump’s first visit to Washington, D.C., since securing the nomination.
None of the Republicans from the South Carolina delegation who attended the two sessions were Trump supporters during the primary. A few of them, including Sanford, R-S.C., continue to harbor reservations.
Sanford told reporters on his way out of the House Republicans’ meeting he continues to be concerned about Trump’s often inflammatory “tenor and tone,” but said it was important the party leader made time to address lawmakers and take questions.
“It’s necessary to check the box,” Sanford said. “At some point, the nominee needs to get to know the Republican Conference because, if in fact he wins, this is the team that’s going to make his agenda happen, or we’d be responsible for its failures.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who actively campaigned for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., during the primary, has in the past been critical of some of Trump’s comments regarding race. As Scott exited the senators’ briefing Thursday morning, he acknowledged Trump had a tendency to be “prickly,” but reiterated his stance about the importance of supporting the GOP nominee and defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“I think that as we move forward you’ll see more people evaluating both candidates,” Scott said. “One candidate has a long public history, and as we learned from the FBI’s investigation you cannot trust Hillary Clinton, at least on what she says about her emails and about how she positions herself on a lot of fronts.”
Scott added that it’s a known that Trump can be controversial but “at the same time he connects to the average person because they don’t want politically correct language leading the way. They want someone who has real solutions. It appears to me that lots of folks believe that, as opposed to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump has more solutions.”
Scott will serve as an honorary co-chairman at the Republican National Convention, necessitating a level of collegiality towards Trump.
Sanford, who is attending the convention but not in any official role, feels no such obligation.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., the most junior member of the S.C. Congressional delegation who will also be at the RNC in Cleveland later this month, has tried to stay neutral on Trump.
“He talked about how he’s going to make America great again,” Rice said dryly, with a smile, of what Trump discussed inside the room. Walking past protestors holding signs calling Trump a racist, xenophobe and bigot, he said it was important for the party to unify around Trump in his capacity as the likely nominee.
Few of the South Carolina GOP attendees felt they had learned anything new from Trump’s presentation, including U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., who called it “interesting.” Rice did say that Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joked about the media’s reporting on Trump’s comments commending Saddam Hussein for killing terrorists. Scott said he was glad for the chance to hear Trump defend himself against accusations of being “protectionist,” and express enthusiasm for a trade agenda “that is to the advantage of our country.”
South Carolina Republicans who didn’t attend a meeting with Trump on Thursday included U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump’s most outspoken critics who said he would not vote for the billionaire businessman this fall — or Clinton, for that matter. Graham was in London on Thursday to meet with British defense officials.
U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney stopped by the House GOP meeting only to catch a glimpse of Trump before rushing to a hearing. He said the candidate received a “standing ovation.”
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.