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Trump met with GOP lawmakers in Washington to rally support, push for unity

Former President Donald Trump visited Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet with House and Senate Republicans.
Brandon Bell
/
Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump visited Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet with House and Senate Republicans.

Updated June 13, 2024 at 13:24 PM ET

Former President Donald Trump held two separate meetings Thursday with GOP lawmakers in Washington. Trump used the events, each held blocks from the U.S. Capitol, to push for GOP members to unify behind him ahead of this year's presidential election.

Trump ended his visit with Senate Republicans with a brief press availability where he listed goals for a GOP-led government and described the current state of the country in bleak and dysfunctional terms.

"We have great unity, we have great common sense," he said. "A lot of very smart people in this room."

Trump did not take any questions.

The former president began the day with a closed-door meeting with House Republicans where he pledged to support members so they can “win big” in November, praised Speaker Mike Johnson and discussed a wide range of issues including inflation and abortion.

The meeting, which took place near the U.S. Capitol, was his first visit back since he left office and since hiscriminal convictions in the New York hush money trial. Trump is meeting with Senate Republicans this afternoon.

It is also the first time Trump has visited Capitol Hill since the January 6th riot at the Capitol. Trump was not present that day as his supporters stormed the building and he has not visited the Capitol building in the years that followed – including President Biden’s inauguration, which Trump skipped.

“President Trump brought an extraordinary amount of energy, and excitement and enthusiasm this morning,” Johnson said while flanked by other House leaders after their more than hour-long meeting.

The afternoon session with the Senate was also an opportunity for Trump to address skeptics within the party. In recent months, more Senate Republicans, including those initially resistant to weigh in, have said they’re supporting Trump’s re-election run. Others, like Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., have refused to back him or continue to avoid discussing their support for the former president.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was one of seven Senate Republicans to vote to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial, said she wouldn't attending the meeting because of a longstanding conflict.

House Republicans provide a mostly-friendly audience

The meetings mark a high-stakes affair for Trump and Republicans heading into the contentious final months of the campaign. While many Congressional Republicans are firmly behind Trump, there remains a divide among some as the former president faces multiple legal battles.

Several members leaving the meeting highlighted Trump asking Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to be “nice” to Johnson. Greene responded with a hand motion that signaled, “maybe.”

“President Trump was very much himself – no teleprompter, no notecards,” said Greene, who led the failed effort to oust Johnson last month. “He joked with everybody.”

Greene said there were no discussions about Trump’s potential pick for vice president, and that Trump told members he “feels a lot of states are in play” with plans to spend money in New Jersey, New York, Minnesota and Virginia.

“He did say there’s a few of you in the room that might not be happy with me because I’m supporting your opponent, but I will be doing tele-town halls for many of you, helping you get across the line, doing whatever it takes to win the House and win it big,” she added.

Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C. said Trump was casting a wide net.

“There’s no state he’s not going in,” he said.

That includes includes races where he isn’t backing the incumbent.

The former president endorsed GOP Virginia Rep. Bob Good’s primary challenger, John Maguire, ahead of next week’s Republican primary. Good attended the meeting, but declined to discuss it with NPR on his way out.

Trump’s grievances on display

Members said Trump did most of the talking in the meeting. Rep Ben Cline, R-Va., noted well over an hour into the session, “it wasn’t a discussion, Trump’s just been talking,” but he added Trump took some questions.

Trump also took a swipe at those House GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach him in 2021, noting there weren’t many left in Congress.

Later, several members said he appeared to signal support of California Rep. David Valadao, who voted to impeach, but without naming him.

He also took a jab at Taylor Swift, noting he signed a bill during his administration to help songwriters, and that he was surprised Swift wasn’t supporting him.

Trump’s message on abortion

South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace said Trump devoted a significant portion of his remarks to speaking about abortion.

“Ensuring that women know that we care and that we’re pro-woman and pro-life is a really important message for us going into November,” Mace said. “He talked about exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”

Mace, one of Trump’s former enemies, now has his endorsement, and was congratulated on her recent primary win.

Rep. Marc Molinaro, running for reelection in a competitive district in New York, told reporters on the abortion discussion, “his point was obviously to speak from your heart. And I've embraced this in my own district for the people I represent, just we've got to be respectful of the very difficult choices women have to make.”

Norman said the message from Trump on abortion was “let the states decide.” He told lawmakers he’s not going to get into the details on specific restrictions and they shouldn't either, but if they weigh in on specific restrictions in terms of 8, 10, 12 week ban, “use your heart.”

A Trump-GOP economic policy takes shape

Multiple Republicans told NPR that Trump talked about ramping up pressure on China, and touted his own policy as president imposing tariffs on China.

One House Republican who has not yet endorsed Trump, Rep. Dave Schweikert, R-Ariz., said about the discussion, “I was actually pleased it was mostly on economy, on inflation. He told reporters he planned to endorse Trump after the GOP convention.

GOP lawmakers said Trump didn’t weigh in on a specific tax strategy, or the speaker’s proposal to push through an aggressive package early in 2025 using expedited budget rules, but urged them to vote to cut taxes.

“He talked about tax-free tips, which is a great opportunity for middle class workers, people who basically make a living on tips to not pay taxes on those things, a good thing, a popular thing with the middle class,” Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., said.

For their part, congressional Democrats said today marked a reminder of a dark moment in the country’s history, pointing to Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack.

“On January 6th, Donald Trump lit a match to democracy with an insurrection on Capitol Hill, and, today, he's arrived at the scene of the crime and continues to throw fuel on the flame,” said California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who served on the former Jan. 6 committee.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Jeongyoon Han
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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