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Trump claims ‘great unity’ after talks with congressional GOP 

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Trump claims ‘great unity’ after talks with congressional GOP 

Jun 13, 2024 | 6:06 pm ET
By Ariana Figueroa Ashley Murray
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Trump claims ‘great unity’ after talks with congressional GOP 
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Former President Donald Trump is applauded by U.S. Senate Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, before giving remarks to the press at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters on June 13, 2024. Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, visited Capitol Hill to meet with House and Senate Republicans. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — In his first visit to Capitol Hill since leaving office in January 2021, former President Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, mapped campaign strategy with GOP lawmakers and projected party unity ahead of the November elections.

Trump said the meetings brought “great unity.”

Surrounded by Republican senators who were smiling and applauding him after a meeting at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters near the Capitol, Trump said “we have one thing in mind and that’s making our country great.”

The positive reception from GOP leaders showed Trump’s standing in the party improved since the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that saw a mob of Trump supporters attack the U.S. Capitol in an effort to block Congress from certifying the electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election.

The U.S. House impeached Trump – for the second time – for his role in the attack, though the Senate vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict him.

Trump’s visit Thursday came two weeks after he was convicted on 34 felony counts in New York for falsifying business records to cover up a hush-money payment to a porn star before the 2016 election. Republicans have denounced the verdict as a weaponization of the justice system.

Trump met with House and Senate Republicans separately. Lawmakers exiting their respective meetings said they were unified behind the former president and they discussed a legislative strategy for a potential second term, such as reinstating Trump-era immigration policies.

“He understands he needs a majority in both bodies to have a successful presidency and he is determined to do that,” Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma said.

Trump has made immigration a core campaign issue – as he did in 2016 – and has promised to not only reinstate his policies at the southern border, but to carry out mass deportations. 

Democrats have remained on the offense on immigration policy, with the White House enacting an executive order that limits asylum claims at the southern border and the Senate failing on a second attempt to pass a border security bill. Vulnerable U.S. Senate Democrats in Montana, Ohio and Pennsylvania are aiming for reelection.

Trump urges ‘careful’ abortion talk

The meetings occurred on the day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on another hot-button issue for the GOP. In a much-anticipated decision, the court unanimously upheld access to mifepristone, one of two pharmaceuticals used in medication abortion, under current prescribing guidelines.

House GOP lawmakers leaving the early meeting said that Trump did not comment on the court’s ruling.

But New York Rep. Marc Molinaro said that the former president advised Republicans that they “have to be very careful about” how they talk about abortion and that “is to show respect for women and the choices that they have to make.”

Just days ago, Trump promised to work “side by side” with a religious organization that wants abortion “eradicated.” Trump has yet to release his policy stances on contraception and access to medication abortion, a two-drug regimen approved for up to 10 weeks gestation.

Access to reproductive health care, including contraception and IVF, has become a central campaign theme for Democrats.

The Senate tried to pass legislation last week that would have provided protections for access to contraception, but most Republicans voted against it. The Senate also took a procedural vote Thursday on legislation from Democrats that would bolster protections for IVF, but it failed in the face of Republican opposition.

Birthday, baseball and an ‘aggressive agenda’

GOP House members leaving their meeting reported singing “Happy Birthday” to Trump, whose 78th birthday is Friday.

Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee said the conference presented Trump with a baseball and bat from the previous night’s Congressional Baseball Game, a charity event which Republicans won 31-11.

Burchett said they wanted to give him the memorabilia because “he’s the leader of our party, and the Republicans destroyed the Democrats, as we should do on Election Day.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana told reporters after the meeting that Trump “brought an extraordinary amount of energy and excitement and enthusiasm this morning.”

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, of New York, said Trump was “warmly welcomed” and that GOP lawmakers had a “very successful” meeting with him.

“We are 100% unified behind his candidacy,” said Stefanik, a contender on Trump’s short list for vice presidential picks.

Johnson told reporters that Republicans have “an extraordinary stable of candidates” and that the party is “headed for a great November.”

Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida made similar remarks, and said that she believes “momentum is on our side.”

“We’re very, very motivated, our base is motivated and everyday Americans are motivated,” Cammack said.

She added that the former president is working to grow the Republican party.

“It’s pretty clear that November for us is gonna be incredible,” she said.

Stakes in November

Johnson said that he’s confident Trump will win the White House and that Republicans will flip the Senate and grow their majority in the House.

Control of each chamber of Congress is expected to be closely fought in the November elections, and it’s possible that the House and Senate will continue to be split between the parties, but political observers see the prospect of a big switch.

If current trends continue through the year, it’s possible that the Senate could swing from Democratic to Republican control, and the House could flip from the GOP to Democrats.

House Democrats only need a gain of five seats to regain power and Senate Republicans only need two, or one if Trump wins the presidential race. Republicans have an easy opportunity to pick up a Senate seat in West Virginia after Joe Manchin III, a centrist Democrat, decided not seek reelection.

“We will be working on a very aggressive agenda to fix all the great problems facing this country right now,” Johnson said.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia said that Trump is focused on increasing the GOP majority in the House. Because of the razor-thin majority that Republicans hold in the chamber, Johnson has often had to rely on Democrats to pass government funding bills along with foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel.

Insult to convention city

Republicans are gearing up for the party’s national convention in Milwaukee in mid-July, where they will officially nominate Trump as their 2024 presidential nominee and a yet-to-be-named vice presidential pick as well.

Trump is scheduled to be sentenced in New York four days before the convention begins.

The former president did not mention a running mate during his meeting with GOP senators, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said.

Trump told lawmakers Thursday that Milwaukee is a “horrible” city, according to Punchbowl News. 

Wisconsin Republicans had varying interpretations of the remark, with Rep. Derrick Van Orden saying Trump was talking about crime in the city and Rep. Bryan Steil denying that Trump even made the comment.

Trump is scheduled to visit southeastern Wisconsin next week, for a campaign rally in Racine on Tuesday.

Key to Senate majority 

Following the meeting Trump had with senators, Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville offered a handful of words to characterize the meeting: “Unification. Leadership.”

But not all Senate Republicans were in attendance. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins did not attend due to scheduling conflicts, according to the Washington Examiner.

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said that despite those absences, Republicans are still unified in their support of Trump.

Even those senators who have been at odds with the former president, such as Utah’s Mitt Romney and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, attended, which South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham felt was beneficial.

“We realize that his success is our success,” Graham said of Trump. “The road to the Senate majority is also the road to the White House.”

Dismissing guilty verdict

Johnson of Louisiana said Trump’s guilty verdict in New York has “backfired fantastically,” as the party boasted of a fundraising bump after “the terrible, bogus trial in Manhattan.”

Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall made a similar argument that the verdict benefited Trump.

“It’s helping him,” he said, noting that after the May 30 verdict, the Trump campaign raised $141 million in May.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming said “there was an absolute meeting of minds” that the verdict was a “sham.”

“We are so sorry that he has to endure that,” Lummis told States Newsroom on her walk from the meeting back to the Capitol.

Trump is also charged in three other criminal cases, including federal charges that allege he knowingly spread false information after the 2020 presidential election, pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to join the scheme to overturn the results and whipping his base into a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The Supreme Court is set to decide in the coming weeks whether Trump enjoys presidential immunity, as he claims, from those charges.

Former Rep. Liz Cheney, who was the ranking member of the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, criticized Republican lawmakers for meeting with Trump.

She reposted a New York Times photograph of McConnell shaking Trump’s hand Thursday on X and wrote “Mitch McConnell knows Trump provoked the violent attack on our Capitol and then ‘watched television happily’ as his mob brutally beat police officers and hunted the Vice President.”

“Trump and his collaborators will be defeated, and history will remember the shame of people like @LeaderMcConnell who enabled them,” Cheney, a Wyoming Republican who lost her reelection bid in a 2022 Republican primary, wrote.

Dems blast return

The Biden campaign has also latched onto Trump’s return to Capitol Hill, releasing statements from various Democrats who led investigations into the insurrection and criticized the former president’s return.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on behalf of the Biden campaign that “the instigator of an insurrection is returning to the scene of the crime.”

“With his pledges to be a dictator on day one and seek revenge against his political opponents, Donald Trump comes to Capitol Hill today with the same mission of dismantling our democracy,” she said.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, former chair of the House Jan. 6 committee, criticized Republicans for allowing Trump “to waltz in here when it’s known he has no regard for democracy.”

“He still presents the same dire threat to our democracy that he did three years ago — and he’d be wise to head back to Mar-a-Lago and await his sentencing,” Thompson, of Mississippi, said in a statement on behalf of the Biden campaign.

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who served as an impeachment manager for Trump’s role in the insurrection, said in a statement on behalf of the Biden campaign that “Donald Trump is a one-man crime wave and a clear and present danger to the U.S. Constitution and the American people.”

Lia Chien contributed to this report.