DeSantis Meets With Republicans on Capitol Hill, for a Lukewarm Response

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida on Tuesday made a rare trip home to Washington, where he served in the House before running for governor, to mingle with about a dozen Republican lawmakers.

But his trip to Capitol Hill failed to spark much of the momentum in his presidential bid that he had hoped for among Republicans in Congress, a key grouping for White House nominees.

Rep. Dan Meuser, who attended a gathering of about 100 people and remained undecided on the race, left the impression that Mr. DeSantis was close to announcing it. “This is a big decision,” he said. “It's up to him.” And another attendee, Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas, said, “I'm not meddling.”

Representative Lance Gooden of Texas, meanwhile, submitted a statement supporting Donald J. Trump – during the Mr. DeSantis.

“Due diligence is my motivating factor,” says Mr. Gooden in an interview after meeting Mr. DeSantis at the meeting. “I love Donald Trump. But I don't want to just jump in and support him out of loyalty. I made a commitment to myself that I would meet and visit every serious competitor before I made my decision. I voted today and want to jump back on the Trump Train.”

Mr. DeSantis took time to have lengthy conversations with every member who wanted to speak, according to the participants.

Mr DeSantis will return to the nation's capital on Friday to address a conference for the conservative Heritage Foundation before traveling to Austin, Texas, for an event.

From there, he will travel overseas on a trade mission that has not been publicly announced by the governor's office. The itinerary includes Tokyo, where he is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, before heading to Seoul, Tel Aviv and London, according to people familiar with the plans.

Mr Crenshaw said Mr DeSantis spoke Tuesday mostly about Florida policy. The Texas congressman criticized Trump's lies about the 2020 election but said he had no plans to get involved.

Mr. DeSantis served in the House for six years before running for governor in 2018, but he did little to maintain his congressional relations. He has largely avoided gathering in Washington in recent years for groups such as the Association of National Governors or the Association of Republican Governors. While the event on Tuesday is billed as a meet and greet, some of the Republicans invited are former colleagues.

One of those lawmakers, Representative Darin LaHood of Illinois, said earlier in the day that he was not ready to support Mr DeSantis.

“Well, Governor DeSantis hasn't announced that he'll be running for president – his time will come,” said Mr. LaHood during an interview on Fox News. “Today is just another opportunity to hear the great success story that Governor DeSantis has in Florida and for my colleagues to get to know him again.”

The event was held in an event space a short walk from the Capitol – and about three miles from the White House. The room was rented by a group called And To The Republic, which was formed by Tori Sachs, a Republican strategist from Michigan, and who has hosted other recent events for the governor of Florida, as he has laid the cornerstones of his presidency.

About two dozen protesters gathered outside, with loudspeakers and loudspeakers to berate participants with shouts of “shame”. But Mr DeSantis used the side door from the protesters to enter.

The event was hosted in part by Representatives Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, two Republican House members who have endorsed Mr. DeSantis for president. A third member of the House of Representatives, Representative Laurel Lee of Florida, endorsed Mr. DeSantis Tuesday before the meet and greet.

Mr Trump, the front-runner in the election, who opened his campaign five months ago, has garnered 45 endorsements from House Republicans, including seven from Florida. Mr Trump's team announced three of the Florida Republican endorsements – Brian Mast, John Rutherford and Greg Stuebe – within 24 hours of Mr DeSantis landing in Washington.

Representative Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, attended Tuesday's event but said his presence should not be seen as endorsement but as an opportunity to discuss policy issues in different parts of the state.

Mr Buck said he sat next to Mr DeSantis when both were on the House Judiciary Committee and was “loved to be supportive in general.”

“Most of us who attend don't publicly support it – I have gone to events for other people and will continue to do so,” said Mr. Buck. “This is just an opportunity for Ron to be in town and maybe raise his profile a bit.”

Maggie Habermann And Jonathan Weisman reporting contribution.