House Democrats have sent the impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” to the Senate, kicking off the trial process.
WASHINGTON – Former President Donald Trump discussed his plans to get involved in the 2022 congressional elections with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday, a nod the former president still has a hold on the GOP weeks after his supporters led a deadly riot on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump and McCarthy “discussed many topics, number one of which was taking back the House in 2022,” said a readout from the ex-president’s office. “President Trump’s popularity has never been stronger than it is today, and his endorsement means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time.”
The meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, signals the ex-president plans to inject himself in the 2022 elections, even after Republicans lost control of the White House and Senate with him atop the GOP ticket.
It also comes as the Senate appears poised to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial in February and Trump allies step up attacks against Republican House members who backed impeachment – critics who may face Trump-backed challengers in Republican primaries next year.
After the riot, Trump’s approval ratings fell to record lows across the board. More recent surveys show him regaining support among Republicans. A Morning Consult/Politico poll this week said 50% of Republican voters believe he should play a “major role” in the future of the party.
A week after the Jan. 6 riots, McCarthy said Trump “bears responsibility” for the violence at the Capitol. But since then, McCarthy has taken a much softer tone towards Trump. “I don’t believe he provoked it, if you listen to what he said at the rally” right before the attack, McCarthy told reporters a week ago. And on Thursday, his office released an upbeat statement about the meeting, saying that Trump “committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022.”
McCarthy also called for “a united conservative movement” that can “strengthen the bonds of our citizens.
Impeachment has split Republicans and threatens divisive primaries that could undercut the party’s prospects in future elections. Allies of Trump have spoken about plans to target pro-impeachment House Republicans in 2022, attacks designed in part to warn GOP senators against supporting conviction at trial.
As Trump met with McCarthy, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., an outspoken Trump backer, traveled to Wyoming to denounce GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, the most prominent of the 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment for inciting the Capitol insurrection.
Gaetz and other Republicans are seeking to remove Cheney from her leadership post – she is the number three Republican in the House – and are pledging to back a primary challenger to her next year.
Similar threats have been made to other House Republicans who voted for impeachment, and to Senate Republicans who are contemplating conviction.
Trump has made clear he plans to get involved in next year’s congressional elections, but has provided few details.
In its recounting of the McCarthy meeting, the Trump team said he would work with the House leader and noted that Republicans picked up House seats in the 2020 election – though Democrats retained the majority and won control of the Senate.
Republicans in South Florida said McCarthy’s visit is a sign that Trump remains a kingmaker in GOP politics, and the party needs him ahead of the 2022 midterms.
“(McCarthy) is the first in a long line of notables you are going to see down here,” said Peter Feaman, of Boynton Beach, a member of the Republican National Committee.
A top GOP fundraiser and a key Florida Republican leader from Palm Beach County said McCarthy’s visit would bolster renewed calls for unity ahead of 2022.
Blair Brandt, who served as co-chair of the Trump Victory Finance Committee last year and spearheaded fundraisers in Palm Beach, said the party needs money from donors, supporters and the party faithful who are now going “through the seven stages of grief.”
“Unity is the name of the game for Republicans right now,” Brandt said. “We need addition not subtraction.”
Across the country, Republicans are awaiting the results of the Senate impeachment trial – though Trump is a good bet to win acquittal.
Conviction requires the votes of at least 17 Republican senators – and only five voted this week to even hold the trial. The 45 other Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., supported a motion saying the trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office. The motion failed, but the vote count showed Trump could be headed to acquittal.
If the Senate does convict Trump, it would then vote on whether to bar him from future office – action that would nullify another Trump presidential run in 2024.
Rather than discuss Trump’s meeting with McCarthy, Trump allies promoted Gaetz’s appearance in Wyoming to attack Cheney, and suggested it as a sign of things to come for anti-Trump Republicans.
Members of Trump’s political team distributed a survey from John McLaughlin, a Trump campaign pollster, claiming that Cheney’s impeachment vote “makes her extremely vulnerable” in next year’s reelection bid.
Cheney has expressed no concern about reelection or her impeachment vote, saying that Trump “summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.”
Other Republicans across the country said they support Cheney and other GOP impeachment supporters, arguing the party needs to divorce itself from Trump if they have any hope of regaining control of Congress.
Members of an organization called the Republican Accountability Project say they plan to raise $50 million to defend the 10 House Republicans who backed impeachment. The group also plans to speak out against GOP members who helped Trump try to overturn Biden’s election.
There is a “hot civil war” brewing within the Republican Party, said Sarah Longwell, executive director of the Republican Accountability Project, and members should try to resist Trump’s ongoing effort “to try to own the Republican Party.”
“It’s bad news for the party and it’s bad news for the country,” she said.
Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, said she is “astonished” that so many Republicans believe a Trump-led party would be successful.
This is the party that did lose the presidency and control of the Senate, she said, and that was before the violent insurrection led by Trump supporters. In 2018, Trump-led Republicans lost control of the U.S. House, rendering McCarthy and his GOP colleagues to minority status.
McCarthy would be wise to urge Trump against primary challenges to “disloyal” Republicans, Brown said. Those kinds of races would only divide the party further as they attempt to win back control of the House and Senate, and make McCarthy the new speaker of the House.
“McCarthy is trying to say, let’s all support a ‘big tent’ party so we can win back the majority,” Brown said.
She added: “I doubt Trump will go for this because he is not a ‘party player.'”
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