House GOP leaders rally to Trump’s defense as Senate counterparts mostly stay quiet

Mitch McConnell 04 John Thune
Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., second from right, and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks to members of the media following a Senate policy luncheon, Tuesday, April 30, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

House GOP leaders rally to Trump’s defense as Senate counterparts mostly stay quiet

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As key House Republicans race to defend former President Donald Trump after he was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury, there’s palpable silence coming from top Senate leadership, underscoring the divide within the party over how to handle the once and perhaps future president.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) have not responded to the indictment and likely will remain silent for the foreseeable future. The top two Republicans in the upper chamber have made no secret about their desire to move past the former president, a stark contrast to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). McCarthy has embraced Trump and even credited the former president for helping him secure the speaker’s gavel.


A little over an hour after the news of the indictment against Trump was filed under seal, McCarthy weighed in on Twitter, vowing his caucus would “hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account” and said the public “will not tolerate this injustice.”

House Republican leadership presented a united front. The No. 2 House Republican, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), called the indictment “one of the clearest examples of extremist Democrats weaponizing government to attack their political opponents.” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the House GOP conference chairwoman, released a statement calling the indictment “a political witch hunt” and said this was a “dark day for America.”

Some political insiders said the difference in reactions from Republicans in the Senate and House on the topic most likely traces back to elections.

“I think Trump is still very popular with the base, and if you’re up for reelection, you need to be cognizant of that,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist. “If you’ve got, you know, four to six years before you have to face voters again, you’re probably hoping that [Trump] goes away.”

While House Republicans rally behind the former president calling the indictment politically motivated and an “outrageous” abuse of power, no one has seen the charges or evidence yet, which is under seal, a reason both McConnell and Thune could be treading lightly.

“I think they are just being cautious. We don’t know the facts yet; we don’t know what’s in the indictment,” said Saul Anuzis, a Republican strategist and former Michigan GOP chairman. “Different people, depending on their personalities and styles, are just reacting a bit differently. President Trump probably has a bigger impact on House races than he does on Senate races. So it behooves them to be a bit more cautious in regards to stepping out on anything that they don’t necessarily have to do.”

The top two Republicans in the Senate have openly feuded with the former president. The 2020 presidential election, which Trump claimed, without evidence, was stolen from him by widespread voter fraud, was a turning point in his relationship with McConnell. Trump began criticizing the Kentucky senator after he recognized President Joe Biden’s victory. Relations further soured after McConnell said Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the events of Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.

The feud escalated after the midterm elections when McConnell openly blamed Trump for tarnishing the party’s image among critical swing and independent voters and for elevating flawed candidates in Senate primaries. In response, Trump pushed Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) to challenge McConnell’s leadership, but the Kentucky Republican was comfortably reelected to lead the Senate GOP conference.

Thune also enraged Trump in December 2020 when he criticized efforts by House GOP lawmakers to overturn the results of the presidential election. Trump bashed the South Dakota senator, calling him a “RINO,” or “Republican in name only,” on Twitter. The former president attempted to lobby Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) to launch a primary campaign against Thune, but she did not.


Not all members of the Senate Republican leadership team are remaining tight-lipped about the indictment, however. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate GOP Conference, called the indictment a “politically-motivated prosecution by a far-left activist.”

“If it was anyone other than President Trump, a case like this would never be brought. Instead of ordering political hit jobs, New York prosecutors should focus on getting violent criminals off the streets,” Barrasso said in a statement.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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