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Fight for Republican Party Draws in Trump, Ryan and Lively Protesters


Members of Congress fought their way past a bagpiper, a horn player and a group of protesters to reach the building where presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump held a highly anticipated meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Thursday's raucous scene outside Republican National Committee headquarters that featured an impersonator wearing a giant Donald Trump head mirrored the unpredictable presidential election campaign that has fractured the identity of the party.

Dennis Rodriguez led a group of undocumented immigrants called United We Dream that was holding a mock funeral for the Republican Party. He said the meeting between Ryan and Trump changes nothing about the party's attitude on key issues.

"The Republican Party has always been this way," said Rodriguez on Trump's views. "Now they are finally showing their true colors."

Trump has won nearly 11 million votes from Republicans in the state-by-state nominating contests, even with his call to deport 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, a vow to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out more migrants, and a proposal to temporarily stop Muslims from entering the U.S.

'Step towards unification'

For the horde of national and international reporters waiting outside Thursday's meeting, the wait was long and substance limited.

Trump refrained from his usual propensity for making comments to the media, eluding the cameras when he departed after the meeting. He issued a joint statement with Ryan shortly afterwards calling their first meeting "a positive step towards unification."

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves as he arrives for a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, at the Republican National Committee Headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 12, 2016.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves as he arrives for a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, at the Republican National Committee Headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 12, 2016.

Democrats dismissed Republican attempts at unification, suggesting Trump’s views do align with the rest of the Republican Party.

“The speaker saying he doesn’t want to be associated with Donald Trump because of his comments?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California said at a news conference Thursday.

'Outrageous' comments

“I’ve never heard him make one comment about the comments, the outrageous vitriolic comments made by Republicans in Congress.”

Senate Democrats suggested the similarities between Trump and Ryan harm Americans.

“The idea that there is a massive gulf on policy between Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress is pure fiction,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York at a Senate Gallery newser.

“The policies of both candidate Trump and the Republican Senate majority are way out of touch with the middle class and what we need to get America going,” he said.

U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan takes questions at a news conference after his meeting with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Washington, US, May 12, 2016.

U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan takes questions at a news conference after his meeting with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Washington, US, May 12, 2016.

But not all House Republicans have endorsed Trump. Many hedged their bets in the days leading up to the Trump-Ryan meeting, offering tepid endorsements of “supporting their party’s nominee” and talking of how Trump’s commanding lead in the Republican primary had caught them by surprise.

Republican reception

Rep. John Duncan, a Republican from Tennessee who endorsed Trump in April told VOA Thursday he expects that meeting to happen and said Trump would receive a “very good” reception from House Republicans despite possible policy differences.

“I believe he would give answers that would alleviate most of those concerns,” Duncan said.

Duncan downplayed concerns about party unity, noting Ryan didn’t openly criticize Trump in his initial statement. “The Republican Party is in the best shape of my lifetime,” he said.

While Trump may be seeking the endorsement of some Capitol Hill Republicans, he should be worried about the approval of voters across the country, said political analyst Stu Rothenberg.

“I don't think it's likely that Donald Trump can visit with every Republican who is unhappy with what Donald Trump said and the way he said it," he remarked.

WATCH: Anti-Trump Protesters Speak Up

Rothenberg said the meeting does not fundamentally change the 2016 race. “Trump still has a lot of work to do in swing states and states he thinks he can carry and he starts off behind,” he said.

Ryan, who said last week he was "just not ready" to endorse Trump's campaign, again did not fully embrace his candidacy. But Ryan declared that he was "very encouraged" about working with Trump.

"I do believe we are planting the seeds to get ourselves unified," Ryan said. "But this is a process. It takes time. It's very important that we don't fake unification."

Ryan is expected to eventually come around to support his party’s nominee. Anything less would be an unprecedented move in an election season that has already held numerous surprises.

He recognized as much in his joint statement with Trump, writing "The United States cannot afford another four years of the Obama White House, which is what Hillary Clinton represents. That is why it's critical that Republicans unite around our shared principles, advance a conservative agenda, and do all we can to win this fall."

Support

But quietly and behind closed doors, Republicans will have to decide if it is worthwhile to show enthusiastic support for a nominee who could come out any moment with a surprising — and possibly indefensible — statement.

"It's not simply a case of do I endorse or do I not endorse,” said Rothenberg, “It's do I go out there enthusiastically and support him."

In that sense, the Trump-Ryan meeting did little to change the values the two men said they would need to agree upon for party unity.

The assembled media packed up and headed home without a sound bite from Trump and the protestors were still left wondering who ultimately leads the Republican Party they oppose.

Senate Correspondent Michael Bowman contributed to this report

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    Katherine Gypson

    Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.  Prior to joining VOA in 2013, Katherine produced documentary and public affairs programming in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey. She also produced and co-wrote a 12-episode road-trip series for Pakistani television exploring the United States during the 2012 presidential election. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University. Follow her @kgyp

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