Donald Trump was on Capitol Hill selling congeniality Thursday, but most South Florida lawmakers weren’t buying.
Only one of the four Miami Republicans in Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, attended one of the separate unity sessions the presumptive GOP presidential nominee held with House and Senate members from the party.
Sen. Marco Rubio, in a close re-election battle featuring opponents’ characterizations of him as a no-show senator, was at a committee hearing.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had meetings in her office and then prepared for a committee session on the U.S. military prison for alleged terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, in his first House term, said he had other priorities.
Diaz-Balart said he was glad the New Yorker reached out to him and about 200 other Republican House members.
“It was good to have an opportunity to listen to him in a small setting,” Diaz-Balart told McClatchy. “He took a few questions. It’s a good first step.”
Diaz-Balart, however, said he was withholding a formal endorsement until he is persuaded that Trump shares his core principles.
Among those principles, he said, are reviving the economy, increasing military resources, backing Israel, Great Britain, Taiwan and other key allies, and confronting Cuba, North Korea, Iran and other enemies.
1 The number of South Florida Republicans who attended one of Trump’s peacemaking sessions on Capitol Hill
“This is a conversation in progress,” Diaz-Balart said of his relationship with Trump.
But the other South Floridians were beyond the brash billionaire’s reach.
“This morning, Sen. Rubio was at the Intelligence Committee and then had presiding duties on the Senate floor,” spokesman Alex Burgos said.
“IRL had appointments at her office and then prepared for the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Guantánamo at 10 a.m.,” Keith Fernandez, a Ros-Lehtinen spokesman, said.
“The congressman has been very public about his opinions,” Curbelo spokeswoman Brittany Martinez said. “He did not attend the meeting today.”
In a typically boisterous Twitter post, Trump declared the House and Senate gatherings a success.
“Very interesting day!” he tweeted. “These are people who love our country!”
Speaker Paul Ryan praised the House session as “a great meeting” and said his members appreciated the opportunity “to get additional information about Mr. Trump’s campaign and ask questions.”
Beyond skipping the meetings, the Miami Republicans also reiterated their plans to skip the Republican National Convention in Cleveland later this month.
“Florida has always been a competitive state, and it will be this fall,” Olivia Perez-Cubas, a Rubio Senate campaign spokeswoman, said. “Marco had planned to go to the convention before he decided to seek reelection. Since Marco got into the race late, he will be in Florida campaigning and meeting with voters instead of going to Ohio.”
Even Diaz-Balart is not going to Cleveland.
“I’m not a delegate,” he said. “I’ve gone when I’ve been a delegate.”
However, most members of Congress attend presidential conventions whether or not they are delegates. Many Republicans have said they will be in Cleveland, but several dozen have indicated plans to join the four Miamians in skipping the enclave.
In some ways, the South Florida lawmakers’ coolness toward Trump reflects their constituents’ views.
While Trump won Florida’s GOP presidential primary handily, Rubio carried Miami-Dade County by a large margin. Miami-Dade, Florida’s most populous county, was the only one in the state that Trump lost in the March primary election.
Among 54 Republican senators and 247 GOP representatives, about 80 percent attended Trump’s meetings with members of the two chambers.
The South Florida lawmakers missed lively sessions.
Trump complained about Republican lawmakers who have criticized him, according to attendees.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona confronted Trump over his earlier jibe about fellow Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Flake introduced himself to Trump as the Arizona senator “who didn’t get captured” in Vietnam.
Flake told reporters after the meeting that he still cannot support Trump for president “given the things that he said.”
In a statement after the session, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said that “this election remains a dumpster fire.”
At a conference a year ago, Trump minimized McCain’s experience as a former prisoner of war held captive for 5 1/2 years at North Vietnam’s “Hanoi Hilton” prison after the Navy plane he was piloting got shot down.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said then. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Trump and McCain had already been feuding over the billionaire’s opposition to immigrants and his plan to “build a very high wall” on the Mexico border.
James Rosen: 202-383-0014; Twitter: jamesmartinrose