Senate Republican leaders fled their weekly press conference after delivering prepared remarks Wednesday without taking a single question from reporters eagerly seeking their thoughts on their presidential nominee’s newly unearthed remarks dismissing nearly half of American voters.
Although some of the leadership members addressed journalists in separate huddles as they walked away, the unusual display is symptomatic of the party’s nervousness over Mitt Romney’s comments from a private fundraiser deriding the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) excused himself in the middle of the availability. The rest — Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and John Barrasso (R-WY) — made no mention of Romney or the race in their comments and instead lamented Senate dysfunctionality and attacked Democratic policies.
When reporters ran after them to ask about Romney’s comments, they dodged.
“First of all I’m not going to get critical — your question implies there’s some really big flaw in the way he’s running the campaign,” Kyl said, when asked whether the GOP nominee has harmed his and Republicans’ hopes in November.
Asked whether Senate Republicans voiced concerns with the Romney snafu during lunch, Blunt did his best to downplay the episode and echo his party nominee’s message.
“Well, you know, whether there was discussion at lunch or not, I wouldn’t want to say,” he demurred. “Not because — I just don’t think we ought to talk about what was said at lunch.
“I really don’t think this is of great concern to the Senate — to members of the Senate,” Blunt said. “It could have been better said, as Governor Romney himself said. But trying to get more people into the active economy should be the fundamental debate of this election. And I’m not sure it’s not good for Governor Romney to go right ahead and pursue that discussion.”
Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) and Linda McMahon, the Republican nominee for Senate in Connecticut, have distanced themselves from Romney’s comments. They all face tough races this fall.
“We have a long line of people who are running from Romney as if the Olympics are still on,” taunted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), before the GOP press conference.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.