Congress slips away before Trump indictment
In some ways, Congress got off the hook last night when former President Donald Trump was charged with crimes. The fact that the indictment happened on Thursday night was a blessing for both parties of lawmakers, who had just left the Capitol hours earlier to start their two-week break for Easter and Passover.
Sure, the carefully prepared official statements started coming out soon after the news broke. But lawmakers from both parties snuck out of Washington before they could be asked about Trump everywhere they went.
After the grand jury voted Thursday afternoon in favor of the indictment, Republicans went crazy at Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
GOP defends Trump, attacks Brag:
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) tweeted, “Bragg downgrades NYC felonies to misdemeanors, but when it comes to indicting President Trump, Bragg upgrades a misdemeanor to a felony.”
“The Department of Justice has already looked at the facts and decided that there is no case to be made against President Trump. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said in a statement, “This is the same District Attorney who is known for letting violent criminals off the hook in Manhattan, but has been laser-focused on pursuing a politically motivated prosecution of a former President.”
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) didn’t promise to do anything in particular, but he did say that the House would “hold Alvin Bragg accountable for his unprecedented abuse of power” and that Bragg “has damaged our country irreparably by trying to interfere in our Presidential election.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) seemed to give Bragg a wish list by talking about what happened to another DA: “I wonder if DA Bragg remembers Durham DA Mike Nifong, who withheld DNA tests that would have cleared the Duke lacrosse players. He was then forced out of office, had his license taken away, and was found guilty of contempt of court.
Related reading: Hill Republicans rush to Trump’s defense before the details of the indictment are clear, by Kyle Cheney; Republican leaders and Trump supporters on Capitol Hill rally behind the former president after the indictment, by Lauren Fox and Melanie Zanona, CNN.
Olivia and Burgess talked to more than 40 Republicans on Capitol Hill, including 32 Freedom Caucus members, before the indictment. They found that Trump’s once-loyal supporters are now keeping quiet about whether they will support him for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, even though new polls show that he is getting a bigger lead in the primary.
Will Thursday’s indictment bring the Republicans together behind their leader? That’s still up in the air. But the former president’s influence over Republicans on Capitol Hill was going down, even though most of the people running against him in 2024 hadn’t started to reach out to Capitol Hill yet.
What do Democrats do?
“Mr. Trump has to follow the same laws as everyone else in the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement on Thursday night, “He will be able to use the legal system and a jury, not politics, to decide his fate based on the facts and the law.”
“The grand jury has made its decisions based on the facts and the law. No one is above the law, and everyone has the right to a trial to prove their innocence. “I hope that the former president will peacefully respect the system that gives him that right,” said Nancy Pelosi, who used to be Speaker of the House of Representatives (D-Calif.).
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) doesn’t want your (or anyone else’s) early thoughts: “Just a reminder that there is no rule that you have to give your opinion before reading the indictment,” he tweeted.
Reminder of the deadline: Three Republican chairs of House committees, including Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) of the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) of the House Administration Committee, sent a letter to Bragg before the indictment asking him to testify and giving him information about his investigation into Trump. Bragg’s office pushed back, but the Republican chairmen stuck to their guns and set today at 10 a.m. as their deadline.
Learn the basics: Erica Orden, Meredith McGraw, and Kelly Garrity report that Trump has been charged in the porn star hush money case; Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney answer your questions about the Trump charge;
GOOD MORNING! Welcome to Huddle, your play-by-play guide to everything happening on Capitol Hill. This is the music that will be playing during your Huddle host’s break on Friday, March 31.
DEBT BACKUP PLAN: The “five families” of House Republicans got together with a lot of pizza and a lot to say about President Joe Biden and the upcoming debt ceiling. There are only a few weeks left until the mysterious “X date,” when the debt ceiling will be broken and a huge, long-lasting economic crisis could happen, but the two main players aren’t talking to each other. McCarthy and President Biden are at odds with each other.
So, House Republicans are thinking about making their own laws if McCarthy and Biden can’t come to an agreement. McCarthy’s letter to Biden from earlier this week is being used as a guide. Biden doesn’t want to negotiate with Republicans because he wants a “clean” increase in the debt ceiling, which means that he doesn’t want to give Republicans anything on ways to cut the deficit.
The House GOP doesn’t have enough votes right now to pass a budget, but Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said, “I’m confident we could get there if we had to” about debt limit legislation. Sarah has more to say about what the House GOP is planning.
A DIFFERENT INDICTMENT: The man suspected of attacking Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) has been charged with three federal counts, including assault against a member of Congress, by a grand jury. Kendrid Hamlin is accused of attacking Craig in the elevator of her Washington apartment building. On the same day that Craig was hurt, Hamlin is also accused of attacking a police officer who was doing her “official duties.” ABC News’ Scott McFarlane has more.
ON THE WAY: Congress left for a break with a long list of things to do, but the break could be just what they need to get back on track.
Problems with the roster: In the Senate, both parties hope that the break will help them get closer to a full roster. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) will go back to work the same week the Senate comes back from its two-week break for Easter and Passover.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is back home but still in physical therapy after a fall and concussion on March 8, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who is recovering from shingles, do not have set dates for when they will return.
If the Democrats were at full strength, it might be easier to move the nominations of Julie Su for Labor Secretary and Biden’s federal court picks that don’t have GOP support.
When it comes to nominees, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) made it clear that his fight with Senate Democrats and the White House over the Pentagon’s new abortion access policies won’t be solved any time soon. At least until the break, he will not let anyone in the military move up.
“See you in two weeks,” he said.
RECAST POWER LIST: Our friends at The Recast newsletter just put out a list of the 40 people who have the most impact on culture, race, and politics. There are both Republicans and Democrats whose victories in 2022 helped their party win important battlegrounds. Advocates drive important court cases or change how the public feels about them. You can find the whole project here.