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HomePolitical NewsFor the first time since Jan. 6, Trump comes to Capitol Hill

For the first time since Jan. 6, Trump comes to Capitol Hill


Sen. Lisa Murkowski walked out of the Capitol on Thursday afternoon without any regret over her decision to skip a lunchtime huddle with ex-president Donald Trump and Senate Republicans.

“I haven’t gotten any cards saying we wish you were there,” Murkowski told reporters.

She already voted to convict Trump in the 2021 impeachment trial, having formally broken with him in the summer of 2020. So Murkowski felt no reason to join the 75-minute meeting with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

The two days leading up to Trump’s return had provided bad flashbacks to his time as president, with almost every media question focused on his actions and nothing of substance.

“So it’s like, once again, it’s all about Trump all the time,” the GOP senator from Alaska said in a Wednesday interview.

Thursday marked Trump’s first trip back to Capitol Hill since he urged his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, to head to the joint congressional meeting to try to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Since then, Trump and many GOP lawmakers have tried to revise the history of that day and suggested that some of the rioters are political “hostages,” some of whom he plans to pardon, baselessly labeling them “warriors” and “victims” last weekend in Las Vegas.

So his visit, starting in the morning with House Republicans and then an afternoon huddle with the Senate GOP, prompted a range of emotions that prompted a range of emotions across the Capitol.

Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) paused 16 seconds reflecting on what it meant to have Trump back on Capitol Hill, the first meeting taking place Thursday morning with the House GOP in its campaign headquarters.

“It’s an astounding example of GOP amnesia,” Auchincloss finally said, pausing another dozen seconds before saying something else. “It was a turning point when the GOP didn’t turn on him.”

For Auchincloss, who led Marine infantry units in Afghanistan, Jan. 6 was his third full day in Congress, a seminal moment that has shaped his views of life in the Capitol ever since. He used the votes on certifying Biden’s victory as a measuring stick about which Republicans he would work with, at times refusing to consider crossing the aisle if the GOP lawmaker had voted to deny the results of a legitimate election.

Trump never set foot on official congressional grounds Thursday, but he was a stone’s throw away. It was the closest he has come to visiting since he tried to get the Secret Service and his aides to let him join his supporters in a trip there during the Capitol attack.

Roughly 250 Republicans attended the two meetings with the ex-president, supporting his attempt to formally return to the Capitol for a Jan. 20, 2025, inauguration ceremony.

For those supportive Republicans, this was the normal routine. Every four years the party out of power selects a nominee, and then he or she treks to Capitol Hill, hoping to forge unity for the election and plot a policy agenda.

Some GOP senators who clashed with Trump in the past reported a different style. “He couldn’t have been more both — I think in terms of tone and substance — reserved but I think optimistic. Hopeful,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who feuded with Trump after the 2020 election, told reporters after the meeting.

But nothing with Trump is ever normal. Just two weeks ago, a Manhattan jury convicted the former president on 34 felony counts for filing false business records over a hush money payment to cover up an alleged extramarital affair.

Some of the same Capitol Police and D.C. police who clashed with his violent supporters — about 140 officers were injured, while three died in the days after Jan. 6 — were detailed to provide security for Trump and lawmakers around the meetings.

His motorcade drove close to the Supreme Court, which is slated to rule on his bid to exempt himself from two other pending federal criminal trials.

His luncheon with Senate Republicans came just eight-tenths of a mile from the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse, where he will go on trial for his involvement in attempting to overturn the 2020 election, depending on the Supreme Court decision.

After House Democrats voted to impeach him, a week after the Capitol insurrection, many believed they had dispatched with Trump in the political sense. After they led a year-long investigation into those events, the Justice Department got moving and eventually indicted the ex-president.

But those indictments only rallied conservative voters around Trump, turning his bid for this year’s GOP nomination into a cakewalk, and Trump’s legal strategy managed to delay the federal trials until probably past Election Day.

These Democrats view Thursday’s visit as the final genuflection by congressional Republicans, a group that stands ready to allow Trump to win the White House and shut down the criminal cases against him.

“Justice still hasn’t completely been served. I mean, until everybody is held accountable, it’s still going to feel incomplete and it’s still going to feel unsettled,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), the No. 3 Democratic leader who served on the select committee that investigated Trump’s actions.

Trump has always found greater support among House Republicans, so his morning huddle is likely to be akin to a pep rally. Their ranks have turned over so quickly in this political era that a large majority took office after his shocking presidential victory eight years ago.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who first won in 2016, authored a legal brief in December 2020 that a majority of the House GOP signed onto, trying to invalidate Biden’s win. Johnson was one of a couple dozen Republicans who sycophantishly headed to New York during the trial to show public support for Trump.

So their morning meeting served as a pep rally of sorts. Trump made lots of jokes, made some disparaging remarks about the Manhattan jury and Milwaukee, the host city of the GOP convention next month.

Senate Republicans, most of whom hold traditional conservative views, have always had a more distant relationship with the former reality-TV star. But Trump did not face a hostile audience.

Of the four remaining Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump in the 2021 impeachment trial, only Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) planned to attend the meeting Thursday. And, perhaps thinking ahead to his 2026 election, Cassidy has fallen in line.

“The polls say he’s going to be our next president, so you got to work with him,” Cassidy told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Trump’s last official visit to Senate Republicans appears to have been in May 2020, at the height of pandemic response. The news conference afterward led Trump into discussions about his weight, his support of a dangerous and unproven drug for fighting the coronavirus, his desire to fire certain State Department officials and broadsides against U.S. intelligence programs.

“He’s always going to do the unexpected,” Cassidy said, waxing philosophical about the future of his party under Trump. “You can fill yourself up with anxiety about tomorrow, but will it change a thing? No, not at all.”

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who joined Murkowski and Cassidy in voting to convict Trump, found other plans for lunch. Another vote to convict, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), tried to leave Washington early but his flight got canceled so he did attend the lunch.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), whose GOP political role models come from the Ronald Reagan and John McCain wing, has declared that he will not support Trump in November.

He attended the lunch but continued his weeklong refusal to take any questions about the ex-president.

Other Republicans reported that none of the Trump critics spoke during the lunch.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had not been in Trump’s presence for almost four years. The two have not spoken since McConnell called him in mid-December 2020 to say he would recognize Biden’s victory, and ever since Trump has regularly ridiculed the longest-serving Senate leader.

Returning to the Capitol on Thursday, McConnell told reporters he shook Trump’s hand a couple times. “It was an entirely positive meeting,” he said.

For Murkowski, the entire experience is a bit of political PTSD, seeing the Trump circus come back to town and consume Capitol Hill.

“All of a sudden everything else stops,” she said Wednesday, “because they all want to know: Are you going to lunch, what do you think he’s going to say, what are your expectations?”

She let out a deep breath. “Oh my God,” she said.

As she left the Capitol Thursday, she deflected any questions about controversy. “Everyone’s itching so much for just a little smidge of news,” she said.

Finally, she answered one question. She had a small lunch with friends.

“I had a great salad,” Murkowski said.

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