Trump clashes with GOP critic


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( Donald Trump came to Capitol Hill Thursday with the hopes of unifying the party, but his heated exchange with one of his fiercest congressional critics overshadowed those efforts.

Trump clashes with GOP critic

Trump clashes with GOP critic

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee told Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake he would work to defeat him if he didn't change his tune. Flake, who has slammed Trump for his positions on immigration and his racially charged criticism of a Latino judge, reminded Trump that he is not up for re-election until 2018, according to two sources familiar with what occurred.

"It was a bit tense," Flake told CNN Thursday afternoon. "He started out saying that I'd been critical of him, and I have been, frankly, but I think if somebody makes the kind of statements that he's made against the judge from Indiana -- calling him a Mexican in a pejorative way -- and said the things about John McCain that he said, criticizing him for being captured, you know, that's just beyond the pale to diminish the record of John McCain who spent five years as a prisoner of war."

The back-and-forth unfolded on a dramatic day on Capitol Hill as Trump asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to be more supportive of his candidacy and encouraged GOP senators to unite behind him, warning of negative consequences of a divided party.
Trump meets with Ted Cruz, Reince Priebus

Trump also huddled with House and Senate Republicans -- including former primary rival Ted Cruz -- Thursday as he seeks to unite Republicans behind his candidacy at time when his campaign is again clouded by controversy.

The clash with Flake contrasted with the goodwill that Trump seemed to engender during his earlier meeting with House Republicans, many of whom said they were encouraged by Trump's more subdued and presidential tone.

The candidate himself downplayed any tensions within the party as he left DC on Thursday. "Had great meetings with Republicans in the House and Senate," Trump tweeted Thursday afternoon. "Very interesting day! These are people who love our country!"

The set of meetings, first with more than 200 Republicans members of the House and then with 41 members of the Senate, are part of Trump's effort to reach out to lawmakers who have been reluctant to get behind his campaign. Though some members are facing difficult races at home because of Trump's controversial rhetoric, the presumptive nominee made an impassioned plea for unity at both gatherings.

During a week when Trump has worried members of his party by veering wildly off message instead of building a coherent case against Hillary Clinton as the FBI wrapped up its investigation into her email use, lawmakers attempted to put the best face on the rifts within the party on Thursday.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, who was one of the first House lawmakers to endorse Trump, said 25 to 30 members lined up to ask questions, and Trump took every one. In a brief gaggle after the meeting, lawmakers supportive of Trump said they felt the meeting was a positive step toward unity.

Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said Trump repeatedly said "we need to stick together." "He was pleading with us for it," said Cramer, who added he felt that Trump had struck the right tone in the meeting.

The meeting comes as many Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying to come to grips with Trump's freewheeling style -- on display Wednesday night during a speech in Cincinnati in which he reignited a controversy over a tweet some have said is anti-Semitic -- that seems to appeal to many in the GOP base but could turn off the broader electorate heading into the November election.

Many who attended the House meeting said Trump, who was accompanied by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, repeatedly spoke of his desire to unite the party and vowed to accelerate the pace of fundraising for his own effort and congressional races -- which had been a major point of concern for members.

At one point, he turned to Ivanka and asked her to vouch for the fact that he won't "let you down."

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Rep. Cresent Hardy of Nevada, who is not going to the Republican National Convention later this month and has not endorsed Trump, asked one of the first questions inside the meeting. He told Trump he was worried about his ability to appeal to the broader electorate during the general election.

Hardy said he represents a district with a large Hispanic, Asian and African-American populations that may be one of the most diverse GOP districts in the country and noted that he is now running against a Latino opponent who is using Trump's comments as a wedge issue.

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His question was whether Trump can run a general election campaign that can win over diverse voters without continuing to offend them.

Rep. Peter King, R-New York, said Trump took the time to give a lengthy answer to Hardy's question.

"Trump spent about 10 minutes answering the question -- why he thought he could turn that around," King said. "He was giving examples of some polls where his numbers have gone up, and again, distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration, the importance of jobs. He handled it well. Being in the room, he handled it well."

The tenor of the questions to Trump, several House members said, was polite and respectful.
Members asked about his potential nominees to the Supreme Court, the FBI investigation into Clinton's email practices, his position on trade, and how much he would be campaigning for House members before November.

"He basically said he would be everywhere from now to election day," said King, who has been critical of Trump's candidacy. "It was actually probably Donald Trump at his best

Several members also said Trump spoke at length about expanding the electoral map -- stating that he could put Oregon, Washington, Michigan and Connecticut in play, even though those states that have long been out of reach for the GOP.

Trump was, however, pressed by the lawmakers about he quickly he could catch up in fundraising -- despite the $51 million haul announced early this week -- as well as how he planned to smooth over some of his more inflammatory rhetoric with key minority groups.

After Trump's address to senators, he met with Cruz for the first since the Texas senator dropped his presidential bid in May. Cruz has not formally endorsed Trump and still has the loyalty of some delegates to the Republican National Convention in July. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus also attended the meeting between Trump and Cruz.

Later on Thursday, Cruz described his meeting with Trump as "positive and productive." Trump offered him a speaking slot at the convention and he accepted on the spot. A senior Trump official described the meeting as being helpful in mending relations between the two men. Trump did not ask for Cruz's endorsement, and Cruz did not offer his endorsement.

"There was no discussion of any endorsement. He asked me if I would speak at the convention and I said I'd be very glad to do so," Cruz told reporters. "I'm going to urge Americans to get back to the Constitution, to change the path we're on," Cruz added, when asked what he would speak about at the convention. "I'm going to do my very best to point to the policies and principles that we should be unifying behind and that give a better direction for this country going forward."

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