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Donald Trump's Rise Divides Lawmakers On Capitol Hill


While there's still some time to go before both parties settle on their nominees, Republicans in Congress are already conflicted over Donald Trump, over whether he'll boost or burn the party should he be their nominee. And Democrats are preparing to run against him. Here's NPR's congressional reporter Susan Davis.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Senate Democrats cracked open their political playbook Monday with the launch of the first attack ad featuring Donald Trump. Arizona Senate candidate Ann Kirkpatrick is running to unseat Republican incumbent John McCain.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Even after Trump said...


DONALD TRUMP: He's a war hero 'cause he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK? I hate to tell you.



JOHN MCCAIN: I vote for the Republican nominee, obviously. I am a loyal Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: There was a time when country mattered more than his political party.

DAVIS: The ad is right in one regard. Here's McCain again Monday night.


MCCAIN: I've always said I support the nominee.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And if that's Donald Trump?

MCCAIN: Hello. I said I support the nominee.

DAVIS: If McCain sounds frustrated, he's not the only one. Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today both rebuked Trump for not more quickly disavowing what supremacists that are supporting his campaign. Here's Ryan.


PAUL RYAN: If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people's prejudices.

DAVIS: But neither McCain nor Ryan have wavered from their pledge to support whoever the voters decide to be the nominee. Some Republican senators like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska say they will not support Trump. Sasse has even called for a third-party candidate to enter the race. But they're not on the ballot this year. Republicans who are on the ballot are lining up for Trump. Take Florida House Republican David Jolly. He's running for the Senate to succeed Marco Rubio, and in December, he called for Trump to drop out of the race.


DAVID JOLLY: It is time that my side of the aisle has one less candidate in the race for the White House. It's time for Donald Trump to withdraw from the race.

DAVIS: That was in response to Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the country. This is Jolly now.


JOLLY: The reality is Donald Trump is resonating with our voters. And as a U.S. Senate candidate who's up by 20 right now in the primary, I may have to recognize that Donald Trump might be at the top of our ticket.

DAVIS: Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger supports Rubio because he says Rubio can win in November. Kinzinger says Trump could be a disaster for the party.

ADAM KINZINGER: I think he's a liability. You know, my belief is the vast majority of Americans - they may be upset with government, but they want answers. They want solutions, not just rhetoric. And the rhetoric has worked for him so far, but I think it's going to wear thin very soon.

DAVIS: Conservatives like Arizona Congressman Trent Franks say they will vote for Trump even if they don't trust him.

TRENT FRANKS: Let me just tell you that if he's the nominee, I will be in an impossible conundrum because we cannot, as conservatives, trust Donald Trump to do the right thing, but we positively can trust Hillary Clinton to do the wrong thing. So yes, I will.

DAVIS: All of this this Republican angst is a gift for Democrats like New Mexico's Ben Ray Lujan. He runs the House Democrats' camping operation. Lujan says Trump's attacks on political correctness that had made him a star in the GOP primary will become a liability with general election voters.

BEN RAY LUJAN: I think that all couples for an environment that is not healthy for House Republicans or Republicans across the country and not just House Republicans running for Congress - Republicans running up and down the ballot everywhere in every part of America.

DAVIS: Come tomorrow, lawmakers may know what that general election ballot will look like. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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