U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte, who joined with congressional Republicans to meet with Donald Trump Thursday, has raised concerns about the presumptive GOP nominee’s ability to maintain diplomatic ties with Gulf region allies.
During two separate meetings on Capitol Hill, Trump at times attempted to ease concerns among lawmakers about his temperament and anti-Muslim rhetoric during the closed-door meetings. At other times, he lashed out at those Republicans who denied him their full support.
Pittenger told McClatchy he has felt uneasy about Trump’s relationship with Gulf region allies – some of whom cooperate or want to cooperate with the United States on counterterrorism issues. Pittenger, who just returned from an overseas trip to the Middle East, is the chairman of the Congressional Taskforce on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. He said he broached the topic with Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager.
“I do have a concern,” he said. “I spoke to Paul Manafort on that as well this morning, the need to have a strong collaboration with our Gulf allies, our Gulf partners and some of the discussion, some of his statements, have caused some concern.”
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Trump has previously called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. Trump has also said that America should “suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we fully understand how to end these threats.”
“The ban will be lifted when we as a nation are in a position to properly and perfectly screen those people coming into our country,” he said.
America needs to show its full support for the Sunni Muslim allies that support its campaign against Muslim terrorists, Pittenger said. He made sure Manafort understood the extent of his concerns.
“He mentioned that it was clearly understood and that Mr. Trump understands that and that we will have a communication that better conveys our relationships with our allies abroad,” Pittenger said.
Some North Carolina Republicans who attended the first meeting at the Capitol Hill Club said they were mostly pleased with the billionaire presidential candidate. Trump was upbeat and promoted a positive environment while speaking to House Republicans in the morning, said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-Banner Elk. While she and Pittenger listened to his speech inside, a group of protestors gathered outside heckled lawmakers as they exited the meeting with cries of “Shame!” and “Trump is a racist!”
“There was a lot of talk about unifying the party, and we’re all working for the same objectives,” Foxx said. “I think every single person in that room wants Donald Trump elected as president. I don’t think there’s a bit of disagreement on that.”
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis said he attended that meeting and said he saw indications that his congressional colleagues were pleased with what Trump had to say.
“Anytime you have a vast majority of the Republican Senate Conference come early and stay late it’s a good meeting,” he said. “We had a great exchange. It was very productive. We’re bringing Americans together disgusted by the status quo.”
“We have a saying in the mountains of North Carolina when you learn ‘em you like ‘em,” Tillis said. “We have to recognize we have an opportunity to win and transform this nation and Donald Trump’s gonna do that.”
But Rep. Mark Sanford, R-South Carolina, said he left the meeting worried about whether Trump understood the basics of the Constitution. The presumptive nominee promised Republicans that he would defend things that didn’t exist, Sanford said during a Thursday lunch with reporters, according to The Washington Post.
“I wasn’t particularly impressed,” Sanford said. “It was the normal stream of consciousness that’s long on hyperbole and short on facts. At one point, somebody asked about Article I powers: What will you do to protect them? I think his response was, ‘I want to protect Article I, Article II, Article XII,’ going down the list. There is no Article XII.”
The tone and tenor of the Republican front man has given Sanford reason to pause, he said.
“I like much of what he says, but I’m very concerned about the way he says it,” he explained.
Trump’s second meeting on Capitol Hill Thursday was with Senate Republicans at the National Republican Senatorial Committee building. He lashed out at three Republican Senators during the meeting over their lack of support for his campaign. The short list included Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska.
“Senator Sasse went to today’s meeting ready to listen,” Sasse spokesman James Wegmann told The State-Journal Register. “Senator Sasse introduced himself to Mr. Trump, and the two had a gracious exchange. Mr. Sasse continues to believe that our country is in a bad place and, with these two candidates, this election remains a dumpster fire. Nothing has changed.”
Vera Bergengruen contributed.
Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048 @MolotovFlicker