WASHINGTON—House Speaker Paul Ryan held back from endorsing presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump after a pair of meetings Thursday on Capitol Hill in which the two acknowledged their lingering differences but said they were “totally committed” to unifying a divided Republican Party.
The Wisconsin Republican, who shocked the party last week when he said he wasn’t yet ready to back Mr. Trump, didn’t change that position after two meetings with the New York real estate mogul Thursday at the Republican Party headquarters. But the two said in a joint statement issued after the meetings that they “remain confident there’s a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall, and we are totally committed to working together to achieve that goal.”
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Ryan acknowledged that he and Mr. Trump maintained their policy differences and said it would take time for Republicans to unify after the hard-fought GOP presidential primary. The GOP contest effectively ended last week when Mr. Trump trounced his competition in the Indiana primary and his chief rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, ended his campaign.
“There are policy disputes we will have, there’s no two ways about it,” Mr. Ryan said of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan have split on numerous policy stances, including a new Pacific trade deal, the scope of Social Security, an overhaul of the immigration system and whether the U.S. should ban Muslim immigrants.
But Mr. Ryan said the two on Thursday had found some areas of agreement in “core principles,” including their reverence for the Constitution, their opposition to abortion, their philosophy on Supreme Court nominees and their desire to defeat likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in November. Mr. Ryan said the meeting amounted to “planting the seeds to get ourselves unified” and future discussions would delve deeper into policy divergences.
“I was very encouraged with this first meeting, but this is a process,” Mr. Ryan said.
The speaker also noted that Mr. Trump had expressed interest in having him serve as the chairman of the GOP convention in Cleveland in late July. By tradition, the House speaker serves in that role, but Mr. Ryan had said earlier that he would defer to the wishes of Mr. Trump after he held back from endorsing the presumptive nominee last week.
Mr. Trump met first with Mr. Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, and then went into a huddle with top House GOP leaders, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.). Mr. Trump was set to meet later Thursday morning with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who has endorsed him, and other senior Senate Republicans.
House Republicans said ahead of the meeting that they didn’t expect Mr. Trump’s visit to Capitol Hill to generate an immediate rapprochement with Mr. Ryan.
Rep Chris Collins of New York, the first House Republican to endorse Mr. Trump, said Mr. Ryan told colleagues yesterday that he considered the meeting an opportunity to get acquainted with Mr. Trump, not a forum for negotiating detailed policy differences, such as their split over the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Mr. Trump opposes the Pacific trade deal. Mr. Ryan has been a trade advocate, but said in February that there isn’t currently enough support to pass the Pacific trade deal in the House.
“This is not about policy. This is not about TPP. This is not about getting concessions from Mr. Trump,” Mr. Collins said. But the lawmaker also said Mr. Ryan should must unite with Mr. Trump by the end of the month.
“He’s going to win regardless,” Mr. Collins said of Mr. Trump.
But Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.) said Mr. Trump was meeting significant resistance from opposite ends of the party—conservatives who think he’s not doctrinaire enough and center-right people like himself who are dismayed by the lack of clarity and specifics on policy.
“Clearly, the party is not in a good place right now,” Mr. Dent said. He said he hoped most of all that Mr. Ryan succeeds in wringing more policy specifics from Mr. Trump. “Donald Trump has to convince more Americans, including myself, he is ready to lead the nation,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said Mr. McConnell’s support for Mr. Trump means he must answer for some of his most contentious proposals, including deporting the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S., building a wall along the Southern border and forcing Mexico to pay for it.
“Since the Republican leader is all in for Donald Trump, you can only assume he approves Trump’s calling immigrants rapists and murderers,” Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday, ahead of Senate GOP leaders’ meeting with Mr. Trump.” I assume that they can have a long discussion about the wall, how high it should be, how they’re going to get the Mexicans to pay for the wall, even though most people think the idea is insane.”
Corrections & Amplifications: Referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s support for Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said, “Since the Republican leader is all in for Donald Trump, you can only assume he approves Trump’s calling immigrants rapists and murderers.” An earlier version of this article, based on a transcript from Mr. Reid’s office, incorrectly quoted him as saying “…racists and murderers.” (May 12)