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Donald Trump And The Future Of The Republican Party

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The country hasn't seen or heard much from Donald Trump since he left the White House. But from his new home in Florida, the former president is taking steps to keep his hold on the Republican Party. He's making it clear that loyalty to him will already be a key theme in the next election in 2022. Meanwhile, President Biden is trying to bring Republicans on Capitol Hill on board with his agenda. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now with more. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, flew to Florida to meet with former President Trump yesterday. Tell us what happened.

DAVIS: Yeah. You know, McCarthy went to Mar-a-Lago. It was his first meeting with Trump since Trump left office. McCarthy has kind of been all over the place on Trump since January 6. He had supported his challenge of the Electoral College. But after the violence, he said publicly that Trump bears responsibility for the attack. He even flirted with this idea of supporting a censure resolution during House impeachment debate. But then he walked it all back.

He met - his meeting with Trump, I think, in a pretty public way is a pretty obvious way of trying to show his support for him. Both men's political teams put out statements following the meeting. Both said they plan to work together to win congressional majorities in the midterms. In his, Trump said that his popularity has never been stronger than it is today. And his endorsement means more than, perhaps, any endorsement at any time. I would note that Trump is seeing record low disapproval ratings at the time.

MCCAMMON: And, Sue, right after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, there was, as you've reported, a lot of talk from congressional Republicans blaming Trump, saying he needed to be held accountable. But as we head into the impeachment trial scheduled for next month, that talk seems to have faded. Why is that?

DAVIS: Well, I think, in the House, you know, as you've heard, there's been this big backlash against the Republicans who supported impeachment, most notably is against the No. 3 Republican, Liz Cheney. You now have Republicans campaigning against her. That kind of thing not too long ago is pretty unheard of in politics. In the Senate, I'm not sure there was ever really high confidence they had the two-thirds vote they would need to convict Trump in the upcoming trial.

But any doubt was eliminated earlier this week in a test vote that was offered by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, in which all but five Senate Republicans sided with him. You know, in the Senate, I would say they're not - they don't really defend what Trump did. Many are falling back on a process argument, that they just don't believe the Senate should try a president once he leaves office. I do think it's worth noting, in contrast to McCarthy, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has not shown the same loyalty to Trump. He's been much more critical in public. And he hasn't walked any of it back.

MCCAMMON: Meanwhile, President Biden is trying to pass a massive coronavirus relief bill. And he's been trying to find some common ground with Republicans to get that done. How is that going?

DAVIS: Not great. You know, Republicans have been pretty lukewarm about the cost of this $1.9 trillion bill. And they don't like a lot of policies in it, like raising the federal minimum wage to $15. Democrats are now looking at using special budget rules to get around needing Republican support in the Senate. Republicans involved in talks with the Biden administration say that if they go that route, it could poison the well for bipartisanship going forward. I interviewed Ohio Senator Rob Portman for the NPR Politics Podcast. And this is what he told me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROB PORTMAN: I think you set a really bad tone, at least for months and maybe for the first term, the first two years at least. I think we should take a deep breath, reread the Biden inaugural address and get to work - roll up our sleeves and figure out how to find common ground.

DAVIS: You hear Portman there saying that the reaction to this could not just be about this bill, it could really poison the well going forward. Democrats are pretty unmoved by this. I don't know if they think that the Republicans are ever going to come around and support this bill. So they're looking at starting that budget process next week.

MCCAMMON: All right. That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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