US Elections 2016

Republican lawmakers struggle to duck queries

WASHINGTON • The awkward efforts of Republicans to embrace their party's standard-bearer Donald Trump looked particularly painful in Congress last week as lawmakers ducked into elevators, dashed away from reporters, ignored questions or, worse, tried to answer them.

Only days after a furore over his criticism of a Mexican-American judge, he sent Republicans reeling again by renewing his call for a ban on Muslim immigration after the Orlando shooting.

Then the former reality TV star waded into two sensitive topics for social conservatives by embracing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and suggesting the country may need certain new gun control measures.

For lawmakers accustomed to well-crafted talking points and predictable lines of questioning, the week marked a chaotic flurry of contorted responses or terse, tight- lipped replies.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming walked away when asked about Mr Trump's embrace of the LGBT community, saying: "I don't know what the latest is. I haven't read anything. I haven't been watching."

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a former Trump adversary in the presidential primaries, had to bat away two Trump questions before he could announce that he is considering running for re-election - a decision that could determine whether Republicans retain control of the Senate in the Nov 8 elections.

Senator Ted Cruz, another rival in the primaries, refused to respond directly to the speech in which Mr Trump hardened his line on Muslims while Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr called it "an OK speech" before stepping into an elevator and refusing to respond to any more questions.

The Trump challenge is obvious even for seasoned Republicans.

"I'm spending my days commenting on everything that Donald Trump says," lamented Mr John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr Trump's controversies have also overshadowed House Speaker Paul Ryan's rollout of a policy agenda, a campaign document that was supposed to help bring his position more into line with mainline party doctrine.

When asked whether he was bothered by having to contend with Mr Trump's remarks, Mr Ryan called the latter "a different kind of candidate... (in) a different kind of year".

Asked how many more times he would be called on to do so, Mr Ryan said: "I don't know the answer to that question either."

In an ironic message to his Republican critics last week, Mr Trump had this to say: "Be quiet, just please be quiet. Don't talk. Please be quiet. Just be quiet."

Mr Ryan's response? "You can't make this up sometimes," he said.

A political neophyte who has never held elected office, Mr Trump has also said he may not need much from his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill anyway.

"We have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself. I'll do very well," he said in a CNN interview.

"A lot of people thought I should do that anyway, but I'll just do it very nicely by myself."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'Republican lawmakers struggle to duck queries'. Print Edition | Subscribe