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Inside Trump’s gripe-filled meeting with House GOP and his reunion with McConnell


By Annie Grayer, Melanie Zanona, Lauren Fox and Kit Maher, CNN

(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump led House Republicans through a gripe-filled closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill on Thursday, airing grievances about his legal and electoral challenges, attacking his critics in the room, and only briefly addressing policy matters like abortion and taxes, according to multiple GOP lawmakers in the room.

In his first time returning to the Capitol campus area since leaving office after the January 6, 2021, riot, the former president met with lawmakers for over an hour.

In between rants about Taylor Swift and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump went after his detractors – those who have since lost their seats and some who were in the room – as he warned Republicans to not be afraid of the hot button issue of abortion.

In a sign that the former president is reveling in how the party has fallen in line behind him, Trump bragged that most of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him were no longer in office and singled out one of the remaining two GOP lawmakers left: GOP Rep. David Valadao of California.

“I never loved him,” Trump said of Valadao, according to a GOP member.

As a number of House Republicans find themselves in competitive primary races, the former president said he wanted to do tele-town halls, but acknowledged his help would not be welcomed by some, given that he had endorsed their primary opponents.

Trump did not shy away from acknowledging the bad blood between House Speaker Mike Johnson and GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who unsuccessfully tried to oust Johnson against Trump’s wishes. The former president playfully asked Greene, a staunch ally of his who he strongly supports, to be nice to the speaker.

“He’s always so sweet, recognizing me, and he said ‘are you being nice to Speaker Johnson?’ He was joking. And I said ‘eh,’” as she gestured with her hands. “He said ‘OK be nice to him’ and I nodded my head,” she added.

Johnson, after the meeting, said the former president told him that he was doing “a very good job” and that he plans to be “fully prepared” to implement Trump’s plans if he wins in November.

The former president’s conviction also hung heavy over Thursday’s meeting.

Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill immediately sprung into action following the guilty verdict –proposing to defund the Department of Justice and even shut down the government. House Republicans voted to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress on Wednesday. And one legislative proposal Republican leaders are now actively pursuing is a bill that would allow current and former presidents to move state-level cases to federal court. The legislation passed out of committee last September, but GOP leaders only started formally whipping the bill this week – on the eve of Trump’s Capitol Hill visit and two weeks after his conviction.

In his meeting with GOP lawmakers, Trump called the Department of Justice “dirty no good bastards,” according to another source in the room.

GOP Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma said the former president expressed he was “gravely concerned” about the federal government being weaponized.

In a news conference after the meeting, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer said that the former president’s felony convictions have only energized the party that will propel them to victory in November.

“Anybody who thought that this President was going to be down after the sham trial, after that crooked trial that we saw in New York, I think, again, it’s only given him even more energy,” Emmer said. “And what he did for us upstairs just now is, he showed us that energy and he showed us that positive outlook, despite all the garbage they’ve been throwing at him with their lawfare and their nonsense.”

Trump tells GOP lawmakers to ‘follow your own heart’ on abortion

Trump had a direct message for House Republicans on how to approach abortion leading into November, an issue Republicans have struggled to unify around in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

Johnson relayed that Trump told the group to “exercise your own conscience to talk about it, share your conviction, and do that in a way that makes sense to people. And I think he had made a good point.”

Trump, in a low voice, advised Republicans to not be afraid of the issue, according to sources in room, and claimed that Democrats are the extreme ones on the topic. He called on Republicans to follow their convictions but cautioned how they address the matter on the campaign trail and advocated for exceptions.

“He talked and pushed for exceptions for rape, life of the mother and incest. He talked about the way that we need to talk about it, quote correctly, his words, not mine,” GOP Rep. Nancy Mace told CNN. “And I really appreciated his comments as a woman, as a suburban mom.”

Trump also talked about how Roe v. Wade finally put the decision to the states as they always wanted, though he noted some of them made “not so good” decisions.

“But like Ronald Reagan, you have to have three choices: life of mother, rape and incest you have to do, but you have to follow your own heart,” Trump said, according to a source in the room.

Trump’s message came as the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s approach to regulating the abortion pill mifepristone with a ruling that will continue to allow the pills to be mailed to patients without an in-person doctor’s visit.

The former president also ticked through a handful of other priorities, including his proposal to eliminate taxes on tips, building the southern border, and halting further aid for Ukraine, even though a number of lawmakers in his party support it.

Trump off topic

There were a number of moments where the former president went off topic.

As Trump was ranting about crime rates and so-called election integrity issues, the former president called Milwaukee – where Republicans are holding their convention this summer – “horrible,” according to a source in the room.

Rep. Derrick Van Orden, a Wisconsin Republican who was in the room, made clear to CNN that Trump was “specifically referring to crime in Milwaukee” and not the city itself.

In one bizarre moment, Trump called Pelosi’s daughter a “wacko” and then claimed her daughter once told him that he and the former House speaker would have had a “great romance” in another life, according to a lawmaker in the room..

In response to Trump’s comments, one of Pelosi’s daughters posted on X: “speaking for all 4 Pelosi daughters — this is a LIE. His deceitful, deranged obsession with our mother is yet another reason Donald Trump is unwell, unhinged and unfit to step foot anywhere near her — or the White House.”

He also questioned why popstar Taylor Swift would support President Joe Biden over him, whom he referred to as a “dope.”

“Why would she endorse this dope,” Trump said, according to a member in the room. “He doesn’t know how to get off a stage.”

The former president even said at one point of Hannibal Lecter: “Nice guy … he even had a friend over for dinner.”

At the start of the meeting, House Republicans sang happy birthday to the former president, whose birthday is Friday, and presented him with the game ball and bat from the congressional baseball game that Republican won on Wednesday, according to a source in the room.

Senate meeting striking a more unifying tone

A few hours later, Trump met with Senate Republicans behind closed doors and – lawmakers said – struck a unifying tone.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has had a distant and icy relationship with the former president and has not spoken directly to him since December 2020, said that he shook hands with Trump and that the meeting was positive.

“I can’t think of anything to tell you out of it that was negative,” he said.

Trump praised McConnell during the meeting, crediting the Kentucky Republican for his work to elect more GOP senators, according to a source in the room.

The former president sat between McConnell and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who also has had a rocky relationship with the former president.

“He is the choice of our voters overwhelmingly. It shows that he is absolutely the leader of the party,” Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said of Trump. “I mean, you had people who have vociferously opposed him, who were sitting right next to him in the room.”

Trump himself praised a “great meeting” with Senate Republicans, saying there’s “tremendous unity” in the GOP.

Trump made a point of saying he’ll stand behind GOP lawmakers in their own races, telling the senators beside him, “You’re all either elected or you’re going to be elected again and reelected, and I’m with every one of you and you know that.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida characterized the meeting as “getting the team back together” and providing the state of the former president’s campaign.

“Optimism, but a lot of work to be done,” Rubio said.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said the former president “expressed frustration” over his recent conviction.

“He expressed frustration over the recent trial, you can imagine, and justifiably in my view,” Cornyn said. He said Trump did not bring up January 6.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.

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