A number of GOP senators pushed back on controversial claims made by Donald Trump at Wednesday night’s CNN town hall, telling CNN they disagreed with him on a range of issues in a sign of the divisions within the Republican party over the former president.
John Cornyn, a member of Senate Republican leadership, told CNN after the town hall that Trump’s inability to appeal to voters outside of his base is “a problem.”
“I don’t think he showed anything differently than he’s shown people before,” said Cornyn. “He’s got a unique ability to rally his base, but not to grow beyond his base, which is a problem.”
Cornyn added that he is “happy to let the process play out” during the primaries.
During the town hall, Trump made many false and unsubstantiated claims, including claims about the 2020 election, violence on January 6, 2021, the economy and his handling of records after leaving the White House.
The former president would not say whether he wants Russia or Ukraine to win the war, instead saying that he wants the war to end. Trump said he thinks that Russian President Vladimir “Putin made a mistake” by invading Ukraine, but he stopped short of saying that Putin is a war criminal.
That’s something that “should be discussed later,” Trump said.
Sen. Todd Young of Indiana told CNN’s Manu Raju that he thinks “President Trump’s judgment is wrong in this case” when asked about the comments on the war and Putin.
Young added that “of course it does” worry him. “That’s why I don’t intend to support him for the Republican nomination.”
Asked why he won’t support Trump, Young said: “Where do I begin?”
Later, Young told CNN, “I’ll be supporting about anybody but him.”
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, told Raju that Putin is “probably” a war criminal when asked about Trump’s town hall comments.
The former president also said he would pardon “a large portion” of the rioters at the US Capitol on January 6. “I am inclined to pardon many of them,” Trump said Wednesday night.
Asked about Trump’s comments about pardoning January 6 rioters, Hawley said, “If you’re asking me do I think we should pardon people who engaged in rioting behavior? No.”
Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina told Raju that, “anybody who crossed into the Capitol (on January 6) under the circumstances that I witnessed first hand, it’s hard for me to have a positive predisposition towards them.”
Trump also suggested at the town hall that Republicans should refuse to raise the debt limit if the White House does not agree to spending cuts – and suggested that if there are not major cuts then there will have to be a default.
“I say to the Republicans out there – congressmen, senators – if they don’t give you massive cuts, you’re going to have to do a default,” Trump said, adding, “I don’t believe they’re going to do a default because I think the Democrats will absolutely cave.”
When asked to clarify whether the US should default if the White House doesn’t agree to cuts, Trump said, “We might as well do it now than do it later.”
Asked about the suggestion that maybe the nation should default, Hawley said, “That’s not going to happen.”
CNN’s Manu Raju, Greg Krieg and Jeremy Herb contributed