5 ways GOP lawmakers answer Trump questions -- or don't

Story highlights

  • GOP lawmakers are getting creative when faced with questions about Donald Trump
  • Several say they simply aren't familiar with his controversial statements

Washington (CNN)It's not easy working in the shadow of a Republican nominee that's always dominating the news with impolitic statements; just ask the House and Senate Republicans who spend much of their day at the Capitol responding to the latest stunning statement by Donald Trump.

Last week at the Capitol was dominated by Trump's blasts against the federal judge overseeing the Trump University lawsuit. Trump felt the judge's "Mexican heritage" made him biased, which immediately drew accusations of racism.
    This week, GOP lawmakers face questions about Trump's response to the Orlando terror attack, after he said that President Barack Obama knew something about terrorists that he wasn't letting on and later re-emphasized his call for a ban on Muslims entering the country.
    For Republican lawmakers, there's no avoiding reporters in the Capitol, and no escaping controversy brought on by the presumptive presidential nominee.
    Some -- the #NeverTrump crowd that includes Sens. Lindsey Graham -- have it easy. It's no surprise where they stand on Trump, and they consistently blast away at the billionaire. But not everyone has it so simple.
    With that, here are the top five ways to field a comment by the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.

    Endorse, but disagree

    Trump may have finally secured House Speaker Paul Ryan's formal endorsement, but that hasn't stopped the highest-ranking elected Republican (second in line to the President) from consistently skewering Trump.
    As he rolled out his anti-poverty plan last week, surrounded by African-American schoolchildren and leaders from Washington, Ryan called Trump's comment about U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel the "textbook definition of a racist comment." He later said that he did not think Trump himself was racist and he was not rescinding his endorsement, but the message was clear.
    One week later, Ryan was in the same position, this time blasting at Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the country. A ban based on religion "is not what this party stands for. And more importantly, it's not what this country stands for," he said.

    Don't follow the news

    It's hard to talk about something you've never heard of or don't know anything about -- and saying just that is a tried-and-true deflection used by politicians of all stripes and at all levels of government.
    What makes it hard to use in this case is that Trump is just about everywhere. But it doesn't stop lawmakers from trying.
    Asked about Trump's recent comments questioning what Obama knew about the terror attack in Orlando, veteran Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said he had not heard about them and questioned if he had said that.
    "I didn't see that comment. Did he actually say that?" Hatch said Tuesday. After being told Trump's comments, Hatch said, "I don't know anything about that."
    And Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican facing a tough re-election bid, said he had not heard Trump's speech Monday in response to the Orlando shootings. One week ago Kirk announced he would not support Trump, after Trump's comments about Curiel rocked the Capitol.
    Another Senate Republican facing a tough re-election challenge, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, said of Monday's speech "I didn't follow it closely."

    Avoid the subject

    After a rocky week dominated by the Curiel comments, one of the top Senate Republicans, Majority Whip John Cornyn, simply said he was done talking about Trump.
    "I don't want to talk about that, all that's a distraction," Cornyn told CNN last week.
    Sen. Dan Coats -- another Republican whose name had been floated as a possible running mate for Trump -- also said he was just done talking about Trump. "I've said enough about Donald Trump for a while and I have to focus on a couple of other things," he said Tuesday.
    And then there's Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who bottled up last week after hitting Trump for his comments about Curiel, but eventually came out vociferously against Trump's proposed ban on Muslims Tuesday.
    "I do not think the comments that were made yesterday by Mr. Trump were necessarily the type of comments that needed to be made after 50 people perished," Corker said. He later noted that Senate Republicans had offered Trump advice on improving his tone: "We tried to offer words of public encouragement at times that were important, but were discouraged by the results."

    Nominee? What nominee?

    This has a clear expiration date on it, but for at least another month Republicans will be able to say simply: He's not the nominee. They're technically right -- nobody becomes the nominee until the Republicans meet in Cleveland and cast their ballots to nominate their candidate for president.
    But barring a last-minute bid by Mitt Romney, a stroke of genius by Bill Kristol, or a lightning strike, Donald Trump will be the Republican Party's 2016 nominee for president.
    But, in politics, even the unthinkable allows for some wiggle room -- and veteran Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander took it, telling Associated Press congressional correspondent Erica Warner that he wouldn't talk about Trump because he wasn't the nominee yet.
    "'We don't have a nominee' Sen Alexander says in response to question on Trump. Informed he's the presumptive nominee: 'That's what you say,'" Werner tweeted Tuesday.

    Give reporters the silent treatment

    Just because you have to walk past reporters to get places in the Capitol doesn't mean you have to answer their questions.
    There's always the "I'm on the phone" method -- whether or not there's someone on the other line is irrelevant.
    Senators-only elevators are good hideouts -- until the doors open again.
    But the best way is simply to move quickly.
    Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a vulnerable Republican facing a tough re-election battle in New Hampshire, has gotten pretty good at one important part -- walking briskly past reporters and pretending not to hear anything. She added to that Tuesday, when her staff stepped between her and a reporter to say she would not be commenting on Trump.
    An Ayotte press aide later returned and offered up a prepared statement from the senator condemning Trump's remarks Monday.