Why won’t Poliquin say he went to a meeting with Donald Trump?

Good morning from Portland, but political eyes are further south of Maine to Washington, D.C., where Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump met with his party’s members of Congress on Thursday.

Those meetings were a bit uncomfortable, according to The Washington Post.

With senators, Trump had confrontations with Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, both of whom have criticized him. With the House caucus, Trump misstated the number of articles to the constitution and pleaded with members to “say great things” about him afterward.

Naturally, we wondered what the two Republicans in Maine’s congressional delegation — Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District — thought about this. Neither have formally endorsed Trump.

That’s where it gets cagy. Poliquin’s political adviser, Brent Littlefield, refused to directly answer a question on whether or not the congressman was even at the meeting, referring a reporter to a noncommittal statement from May.

Luckily, we usually get basic questions about prominent politicians answered, one way or the other. Roll Call reporter Simone Pathe said Poliquin was spotted entering and exiting the Capitol Hill Club, where the meeting took place.

Contrast that with Collins, whose spokeswoman, Annie Clark, quickly responded with a message saying the senator went to the meeting. However, Collins wasn’t available for interview on Thursday and Clark didn’t elaborate.

Collins has often addressed the controversial nominee, saying in May she could support Trump if he acts more presidential and stops with the “gratuitous personal insults.”

But Poliquin has gone into contortions to avoid any public discussion of Trump. In March, he ignored a POLITICO reporter’s question on Trump. His May statement praised Trump’s trade stances and his status as a “job creator.”

He has addressed Trump behind closed doors. In May, an audiotape was leaked of Poliquin telling a conservative group that Trump will win in November because Americans are fearful of social change and economic futures.

He said Trump’s “not a policy person,” admitting that he doesn’t know what “half” the candidate’s policies are. But he sensed an opportunity for House Republicans, saying that Trump would leave policymaking to them.

Poliquin went on WGAN on Thursday. When host Ken Altshuler mentioned Trump, the congressman pivoted, saying “I’ll tell you, let’s talk about this, fellas, if you don’t mind” before discussing a tariff ruling aiding a Mechanic Falls manufacturer.

All of this evasiveness could be because of the freshman’s 2016 rematch against Democrat Emily Cain, which promises to be one of the bigger House races nationwide this year. He’ll try to keep the focus on bipartisan action, not national events.

Democrats have ramped up their messaging against him, with Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett saying in a Thursday statement that Poliquin is “so dedicated to deceiving Mainers that he won’t even admit to being at an event that a reporter caught him leaving.”

But Poliquin’s tack hasn’t changed, so we don’t expect it to now. It’ll be a question of how much more awkward this evasion will get. — Michael Shepherd

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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.