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Will Trump hurt GOP down-ballot? Pelosi and Cornyn disagree

During a pair of stops Wednesday in San Antonio and Austin, the two Congressional leaders provided confident outlooks for their parties' prospects in November.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Congressional leaders from both parties, speaking separately Wednesday in Texas, provided confident outlooks heading into November as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump struggles mightily. 

In San Antonio, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi raised the prospect of a wave election that could sweep Democrats into power up and down the ballot. 

"I think we'll have a very strong election of Secretary Hillary Clinton and her success," Pelosi told reporters. "If she wins by seven points, I think we can win state houses, state legislators, the Congress, House and Senate."

Trump is seeking to regain his footing after the surfacing Friday of a 2005 clip showing him speaking lewdly about women, a discovery that has caused the nominee to hemorrhage support within his own party. With recent polls finding Trump on track to lose the presidential race, Republicans are turning their attention to whether they can hold on to their congressional majorities. 

U.S. Sen John Cornyn of Texas said he was not worried that voters would hold concerns about Trump against down-ballot Republicans. 

"I don’t think they’re confusing them with our party’s nominee," Cornyn, the Senate majority whip, told reporters in Austin. "He is a unique personality, and so I’m frankly, at this point, optimistic that we’d be able to retain the majority in the Senate no matter what happens at the top of the ticket." 

Cornyn also said he still supports Trump after the release of the clip while "recognizing that he's made some bad mistakes along the way." The Texas senator said the U.S. Supreme Court remains the most important issue to him in the election, and he continues to trust Trump more than Clinton to appoint justices who will uphold the Constitution. 

Like U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan made clear about his own plans Monday, Cornyn said his main focus between now and Election Day will be congressional races. Asked if he will help Trump in any way, Cornyn replied the nominee "hasn’t asked for my help, and I continue to believe that my time is best used trying to help us maintain the majority in the Senate."

Trump's recent troubles are nonetheless emboldening Democrats who were already eying opportunities to expand their ranks in Congress. In Texas, congressional candidate Pete Gallego is partly pinning his hopes of reclaiming the 23rd district on Trump dragging down U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio. 

Gallego "was a very valued member of Congress when he was there, and we look forward to welcoming him back," Pelosi said in San Antonio, following an event with U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro. "We have a very strong commitment to his re-election."

Pelosi took a swipe at Hurd, who never endorsed Trump but only recently fully disowned him. After the 2005 video came out, Hurd called on Trump to "step aside for a true conservative to beat Hillary Clinton."

"[Hurd] didn't say anything [about Trump] all this time and now all of a sudden, 'Oh my gosh, Donald Trump,'" Pelosi told reporters. "So I think it's really important to note where the sincerity is on that subject of Donald Trump and Republicans, including those in the district that Gallego is running in."

Pelosi's support for Gallego has been an issue in the race, the only competitive congressional contest this November in Texas. The National Republican Congressional Committee is airing TV ads in the district that group together Gallego and "San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi" — a point the committee made again after her comments Wednesday. 

"Of course San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi wants Pete Gallego back in Congress because they share the same liberal values," NRCC spokesman Zach Hunter said in a statement. "Pete Gallego fits right in with Pelosi and her Washington insider friends because, as a career politician, Gallego is the consummate insider himself."

Pelosi also told the Tribune that she doesn’t see an opportunity for a coalition government in the House, saying that “we’re not a parliamentary system, we’re a presidential system.” Her statement, however, contradicts the claim she made a year ago in Austin that there was an openness to a bipartisan approach.

In a coalition government in the U.S. House, Democrats and Republicans would come to a consensus choice to elect a House Speaker — very similar to how the Texas Speaker of the House is elected. Traditionally, however, the majority party elects the U.S. House Speaker.

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