By JESS KIDDEN
WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans and conservative leaders rallied around President Trump Friday, attempting to minimize political damage after Trump shot down a man in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York City.
“I’m not going to put myself in the position of having to respond to every presidential shooting,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a hastily called press conference. “I think it’s important to keep our focus where it belongs, on enacting a conservative, pro-growth agenda that regular Americans care about, such as tax cuts for the rich and the repeal of Medicare.”
Privately, however, some Republican members expressed concern about the long-term political impact of such incidents, especially with midterms looming. “I think that each elected Republican has to make a series of decisions, day in and day out, about whether they find the president’s conduct acceptable,” as one frustrated GOP congressman put it. “This shooting is fine for Trump — he’s not on the ballot this fall — but he’s putting the rest of us in a really tough position.”
The reaction was similar among Senate Republicans. “I think we should criticize the president when he’s done something wrong, and applaud him when he’s done something right,” said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who nonetheless refused to condemn the shooting directly. “The president and I are scheduled to play golf together next week,” Graham said. “If I have concerns — and I’m not saying I do — I think it’s more appropriate to express them to the president in private.”
Others, however, were more blunt. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona quickly introduced a resolution warning the president of potential censure should he again pull out a gun and shoot somebody. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he would not bring the measure to a floor vote, calling it “divisive”and “unnecessary.”
“I’ve been assured by people in the White House that there are no plans to shoot anybody else, at least not at this point,” McConnell said.
The victim, Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti, was shot twice as he left the studios of NBC News at Rockefeller Center. According to doctors, Avenatti is expected to recover with no permanent damage to his mouth or other, less vital organs.
At the White House, spokesperson Sarah Sanders referred all questions about the shooting to the president’s private attorneys.
“Look, I know you folks in the mainstream media are looking for every opportunity to criticize this president, who continues to accomplish amazing things for the American people,” Sanders said. “That’s far more important than any distractions the media likes to throw out there.”
Despite network TV video of Trump emerging from his presidential limousine, gun in hand, other prominent Trump supporters question whether the shooting occurred at all. Fox News host Sean Hannity used his entire Thursday night segment to explore secret links between Hillary Clinton and Avenatti, describing the attorney as a “paid crisis actor” as well as “a descendant of immigrants.”
“Descendants of immigrants commit most of the crime in this country,” Hannity warned. “This is the deep state at work, undermining our democracy and looking to overturn a duly elected president. Don’t think this a coincidence — it is the biggest scandal in American history.”
According to an overnight Quinnipiac poll, 68 percent of Republicans now agree the shooting never happened. A similar poll from Rasmussen put the number at 93 percent.
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