Republican frontrunner Donald Trump met with several Republican lawmakers behind closed doors Monday afternoon in an apparent attempt to improve his relationship with leaders in Washington.
The meeting took place in the nation’s capital ahead of Trump’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference there. It was scheduled amid mounting speculation about the prospect of a contested Republican convention that could deliver the nomination to someone other than the frontrunner, who some GOP leaders have vehemently rejected.
The meeting Monday was organized by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), who has endorsed Trump, and the businessman’s campaign counsel, Donald McGahn. Attendees also included former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint, former Rep. Bob Livingston (R., La.), and Reps. Tom Reed (R., N.Y.), Scott DesJarlais (R., Tenn.), Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.), and Tom Marino (R., Pa.).
Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) was also expected to attend the meeting, though a representative for his office declined to confirm his presence.
The rendezvous took place at 12:30 P.M. Monday afternoon at the Jones Day law firm, where McGahn is a partner, and lasted at least an hour. Several current and former lawmakers declined to speak to the press as they entered and left the building, including Gingrich, who was accompanied by his wife, Callista.
Some attendees took questions upon their exit. Livingston, who resigned from Congress as the House moved to impeach former President Bill Clinton in 1998, indicated that he was “on board” with Trump’s candidacy during remarks to reporters following the meeting.
“I see Trump attacked by others who say, ‘We don’t care what the people are saying and we’re going to do something else.’ I don’t like that. That’s what got me mad and that’s why I’m here,” Livingston told journalists. The former representative said he is “optimistic” about the presidential race and particularly Trump’s odds against Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee.
Livingston, who is now a lobbyist, said that he was “proud” to have met Trump but declined to elaborate on the specific issues discussed during the closed-door conversation.
Duncan Hunter’s chief of staff described the meeting as “constructive.”
“The meeting was constructive, and it’s obvious that Trump’s support is broadening,” Joe Kasper, Hunter’s chief of staff, told the Washington Free Beacon Monday afternoon. “He’s got the right qualities to be president, and today he again showed his ability to lead.”
Following the meeting, Trump held a press conference at the Old Post Office Building downtown, which he is currently in the process of transforming it into a hotel.
The meeting represented Trump’s first significant meeting with Republican lawmakers since last fall. Trump has won a series of significant primary battles, recently besting challenger Sen. Marco Rubio in his home state of Florida, leading Rubio to suspend his campaign.
As Trump has racked up delegates, the once wide GOP field has been whittled down to three candidates: himself, Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Cruz has recorded a number of victories—though not enough to catch Trump—while Kasich has prevailed only his home state of Ohio in a crucial winner-take-all contest.
While Trump has won support from some lawmakers in Washington, his candidacy has sparked resistance from others, including 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor has appealed to Americans to vote for candidates other than Trump, calling the business mogul a “phony” and a “fraud.”
Trump’s campaign has been racked with controversy. The candidate has made contentious statements about Mexicans and Muslims, supported waterboarding and similar torture techniques, gotten into a spat with Pope Francis, and refused to disavow former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke on live television. Additionally, Trump’s rallies have lately become violent, though he has blamed the clashes on paid “agitators.”