NEW YORK – Rep. Chris Collins is doing more than just sticking with Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump amid a wave of new controversies surrounding the billionaire candidate.
On Thursday, the Republican from Clarence took an official role in the campaign, as Trump announced that Collins and Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., will serve as co-chairmen of his campaign’s U.S. House Leadership Committee.
“I stand firmly with Mr. Trump,” Collins said.
In February, Collins and Hunter became the first two House members to endorse Trump. Now, they will lead Trump’s efforts to reach out to and build support among other members of Congress.
“Congressman Hunter and Congressman Collins are conservative stalwarts,” Trump said in a statement. “I am honored to have the support of these two well-respected members of Congress who share my vision of securing our borders, strengthening our military, treating our veterans with the respect and care they deserve and putting Americans first again.”
Collins said he was honored to serve in an official capacity for Trump, even though the outspoken New York businessman has hit a rough patch in his campaign.
Last week, for example, Trump drew plenty of criticism for tweeting a less-than-attractive photograph of Heidi Cruz, wife of his chief Republican challenger, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump did that after a super PAC supporting Cruz tweeted a picture of Trump’s wife, Melania, from her modeling days.
Collins acknowledged that the spat made the two candidates seem “like two kids in the playground.” But Collins said Trump and Cruz have since moved on, adding that he doesn’t expect family members to be dragged into the campaign in that way again.
As for this week’s arrest of Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on a battery charge, Collins said the situation seemed to him to be “perhaps a lot overblown.”
The charge stems from an incident where Lewandowski appears to have grabbed an arm of then-Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields as she approached Trump after a campaign event in Florida.
“It’s not like he went at her with a baseball bat,” Collins said. “The campaign manager was protecting the candidate from a very aggressive reporter.”
As for Trump’s comment Wednesday that if abortions were illegal, women would have to be punished for having them, Collins said: “He has already walked that statement back … and I’m glad he did.”
Collins said that in his new role with the Trump campaign, he will work to unify members of Congress behind Trump as he approaches the number of delegates he needs to secure the GOP nomination.
While seven lawmakers have announced their support for Trump so far, Collins said a larger number support Trump silently – but, for political reasons in their home districts, are opting to withhold endorsing him publicly for the time being.
The announcement of Collins’ role with the Trump campaign comes less than three weeks before the April 19 primary in New York.
Also on Thursday, Quinnipiac University released a poll of New York voters that showed Trump with a commanding lead in the Republican race.
The poll shows Trump leading with 56 percent, followed by Cruz with 20 percent and Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich at 19 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points. The poll was taken before the most recent controversies that have plagued Trump’s campaign.