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Trump returns to Capitol Hill, whips up Republicans in first meeting since January 6 attack


Donald Trump made a triumphant return to Capitol Hill on Thursday, his first with lawmakers since the January 6, 2021 attacks, embraced by energised House and Senate Republicans who find themselves reinvigorated by his bid to retake the White House.

Despite pending federal charges against the former US president for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, and his recent guilty verdict in an unrelated hush money trial, Trump arrived emboldened as the party’s presumptive nominee. He has successfully purged the Republican Party of critics, silenced most sceptics and enticed once-critical lawmakers aboard his campaign.

A packed room of House Republicans sang Happy Birthday to Trump, who turns 78 on Friday, in a private breakfast meeting at Republican campaign headquarters across the street from the Capitol. The lawmakers gave him a baseball and bat from the annual congressional game, and senators later presented an American flag cake. Trump bragged that even his telephone rallies for lawmakers could draw bigger crowds than mega-popstar Taylor Swift, who has yet to make any endorsement.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (centre) in Washington on Thursday. Photo: AFP

In one remarkable moment, Trump and his most prominent Republican critic, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, shook hands, and fist-bumped.

“There’s tremendous unity in the Republican Party,” Trump said in brief remarks at Senate Republican headquarters.

Trump spent about an hour each with House and Senate Republicans delivering freewheeling remarks, fielding questions and discussing issues – including Russia and immigration, tax cuts and other priorities for a potential second term.

During the morning session, Trump said he thinks House Speaker Mike Johnson is doing a “terrific job”, according to a Republican in the private meeting and granted anonymity to discuss it. Trump asked congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, the speaker’s chief Republican critic, if she was being “nice” to Johnson, another Republican said.

“President Trump brought an extraordinary amount of energy, excitement and enthusiasm this morning,” Johnson said after the meeting, noting high fundraising tallies since the guilty verdict. “We’re feeling good.”

The Republican speaker had demurred earlier over whether he has asked Trump to respect the peaceful transfer of presidential power and commit to not doing “another January 6”. “Of course he respects that, we all do, and we’ve all talked about it, ad nauseam.”

Many potential priorities for a new White House administration are being formulated by a constellation of outside groups, including Project 2025, laying the groundwork for executive and legislative actions, though Trump has made clear he has his own agenda.

“Anybody who thought that this president was going to be down after the sham trial, it’s only giving him even more energy,” said congressman Tom Emmer, the Republican whip. “Donald Trump is crushing this election.”

But Trump’s private meetings with House and Senate Republicans so close to the Capitol were infused with the symbolism of his return as the US president who threatened the American tradition of the peaceful transfer of power.

“It’s frustrating,” said former US Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who made his own unsuccessful run for Congress as a Maryland Democrat in the aftermath of January 6, the day when police engaged in hand-to-hand fighting to stop Trump supporters who stormed the building in an effort to overturn US President Joe Biden’s election.

Dunn spoke of the “irony” of Trump returning to the area and lawmakers now embracing him. “It just shows the lack of backbone they have when they’re truly putting party and person over country,” Dunn said. “And it’s sad.”

Former US Capitol police officer Harry Dunn. Photo: Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP
Biden was in Italy on Thursday attending a summit of the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations (G7), but the president’s campaign unveiled a new ad blaming Trump for lighting the “fire” of January 6 and threatening democracy.

Many of those who once stood up to Trump are long gone from office and the Republicans who remain seem increasingly enthusiastic about the possibility of him retaking the White House, and the down-ballot windfall that could mean for their own Republican majorities in Congress.

Thursday afternoon offered the first encounter in years between Trump and McConnell, who once blamed Trump for the “disgraceful” attack that he called an “insurrection” but now endorses the party’s presumptive nominee.

According to Senator John Barrasso, who organised the conference meeting, after Trump addressed the group McConnell gave a thumbs up and the two approached each other and exchanged the fist-bump.

“We had a really positive meeting,” McConnell said. “He and I got a chance to talk a little bit, shook hands a few times.”

03:15

Trump gained over US$100 million through fraud, New York says as civil trial starts

Trump gained over US$100 million through fraud, New York says as civil trial starts

As democracies around the world come under threat from a far-rightward shift, some analysts warn that the US system, once seemingly immune from authoritarian impulses, is at risk of populist and extremist forces like those that Trump inspired to sack the Capitol.

“This is just another example of House Republicans bending the knee to Donald Trump,” said congressman Pete Aguilar of California, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus.

Making January 6 a cornerstone of his re-election campaign, Trump celebrates those who stormed the Capitol as “warriors” and “patriots”, and he has vowed to pardon any number of the more than 1,300 convicted of crimes for the assault on the seat of US democracy.

Moreover, Trump has vowed to seek retribution by ousting officials at the US Justice Department, which is prosecuting him in a four-count indictment to overturn the election ahead of the January 6 attack and another case over storing classified documents at his Mar-A-Largo, Florida home.

Republicans, particularly in the House but increasingly in the Senate, are vigorously following his lead, complaining of an unfair justice system. It is having noticeable results: the House and Senate Republican campaign arms scored some of their highest fundraising periods yet after a jury found him guilty in the New York hush money case.



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