WASHINGTON U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan stopped short of endorsing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday in talks towards healing fissures in the party over the billionaire' s combative campaign for the White House.
The insurgent candidate and the leader of establishment Republicans cast a positive spin on a meeting they held at the Republican National Committee on Capitol Hill as Trump sought to rally more party loyalists behind him.
"This was our first meeting, but it was a very positive step towards unification," they said in a joint statement. "Things working out really well!" Trump later wrote on Twitter.
Party leaders are normally eager to rally around a presidential nominee to combine forces for the battle leading up to November's general election. But Ryan has withheld his endorsement of Trump out of concern over the businessman's bomb-throwing rhetoric and policy ideas, some of which run counter to longtime Republican doctrine.
Ryan has opposed Trump's proposals to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States, deport 11 million illegal immigrants and impose protectionist trade policies.
In remarks to reporters after the meeting, the congressman said he was encouraged by the session but that more work will be needed.
"There's no secret that Donald Trump and I have had our differences. We talked about those differences today," Ryan said at his weekly news conference. "I do believe we are planting the seeds in getting ourselves unified."
Ryan, who may harbour aspirations of running for president in 2020 or later, noted that he represents a wing of the conservatives and that it is positive that Trump is bringing new voters into the party.
"The point, though, is: Can we agree on the common core principles that unite all of us?" Ryan said.
The meeting was arranged by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, a Ryan ally who has been trying to rally Republicans behind Trump out of concern that a divided party will easily hand the White House, and possibly even control of Congress, to the Democrats.
Priebus told CNN after the talks that the meeting "went as well as I would have hoped."
A Ryan endorsement would help Trump, 69, and the party move past an increasingly awkward phase during which Republican officeholders and congressional candidates have publicly struggled with the decision of whether to get behind the New York real estate developer.
Trump's campaign, however, has suggested Ryan's support is not essential, pointing to the more than 10 million votes Trump has received in party nominating contests.
The magnate pulled even with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Wednesday, in a dramatic early sign that the presidential election might be more hotly contested than first thought. The national online survey found 41 percent of likely voters supporting Clinton and 40 percent backing Trump.
Full support for Trump by leading party figures such as Ryan would also help the candidate build the kind of campaign infrastructure and fundraising operation he will need to compete against Clinton, 68, in the Nov. 8 election.
After their private session, Trump and Ryan then attended a wider meeting with other Republican leaders. Ryan, 46, of Wisconsin, is the nation's top elected Republican and is seen as a leader of the party establishment that has resisted Trump's candidacy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has endorsed Trump, said after attending a meeting with him that it was constructive and addressed "a variety of things both campaign-related and issues."
At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest ridiculed Republicans' preoccupation with Trump.
"Right now we see Republicans much more focussed on their relationship with the presumptive nominee than they are on things like passing a budget," he said.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Emily Stephenson, Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell, Patrica Zengerle, David Morgan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)
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Updated Date: May 13, 2016 01:00 AM