House Speaker Paul Ryan threatened to throw the Republican Party into a civil war last week when he said he was “just not ready” to endorse Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
It was the kind of statement that is difficult to walk back, but Ryan, the highest-ranking Republican in the country, is willing to give it a shot – albeit very, very slowly.
“I think we had a very encouraging meeting,” Ryan said during his weekly Capitol Hill press conference, about an hour after his leadership team and Trump met behind closed-doors at the Republican National Committee headquarters.
The Wisconsin lawmaker said it was “no secret” that the two men have had their differences.
“That’s common knowledge,” according to Ryan, a reference to the handful of times he had to rebuke his party’s frontrunner during a vitriolic primary for Trump’s views on Muslims, his slow disavowal of the KKK and threatening violence at this summer’s GOP convention if he was denied the nomination.
“I was very encouraged with what I heard from Donald Trump today,” the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee told reporters. "I do believe that we are now planting the seeds to get ourselves unified to bridge the gaps and differences.”
But about that endorsement? Well, Ryan’s not quite there yet.
“This is a process. It takes a little time,” he said. “You don't put it together in 45 minutes."
Ryan said his continued lack of support was due, in part, to “one of the most decisive primaries in memory,” which only wrapped up last week when Trump’s last two rivals dropped out of the race.
While he isn’t ready to embrace the former realty TV star, Ryan launched a sally of compliments his way, calling him a “very warm and genuine person” and saying that his “unparalleled” wins during the primary season were a “remarkable achievement.”
Ryan also said Trump wanted to keep him as the chair of the GOP convention in July, a role the Speaker offered to walk away from.
The next step in the courtship will be for the Trump and Ryan policy teams to get together in a room “to see where that common ground is and how we can make sure that we operating off [the same] core principles” of limited government and the separation of powers, according to Ryan.
Ryan isn’t the only member of the House GOP leadership who is still shy about supporting the nominee.
House Republican Conference chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) called Thursday’s summit a “very important first step forward to unify as Republicans and build an inclusive coalition of voters to defeat” Hillary Clinton but didn’t issue a formal endorsement.
Meanwhile, House GOP campaign chief Greg Walden (OR), issued a statement saying that while he disagrees with Trump’s rhetoric and policy stances, he would support the all-but-certain nominee.
With so many disparate views surrounding Trump, and what his candidacy could mean for the Republican majorities in Congress, Thursday’s meeting amounts to nothing more than an incremental step on what could be a very long road -- one that Democrats are happy to watch from the sidelines.
“It’s up to them to figure it out,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said during a press conference, adding she didn’t think there was “anything brave” about Ryan withholding his endorsement.
Pelosi said she hoped Republicans would make “a decision to lift the debate to a different place, worthy of the office of president of the United States.”
“That would be progress. They’ve taken this discussion to such a low place.”