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Alabama U.S. Senators attend Donald Trump’s GOP meeting on Capitol Hill

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures before he speaks at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP
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AP
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures before he speaks at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Alabama U.S. Senators Katie Britt and Tommy Tuberville were at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. for a GOP meeting with Donald Trump that drew protesters in the sweltering heat of the nation’s capital. This was Trump’s first visit with lawmakers since the January 6th insurrection.

Despite pending federal charges against Trump for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, and his recent guilty verdict in an unrelated hush money trial, the Republican former president arrived emboldened as the party's presumptive nominee. He has successfully purged the GOP of critics, silenced most skeptics and enticed once-critical lawmakers aboard his MAGA-fueled campaign.

Trump's meeting with Britt, Tuberville, and other Republican lawmakers were met with protesters who outnumbered the press gathered outside the Capitol Hill Club. Many carried signs with slogans like "Failed Coup," and "We elect Presidents not kings—no immunity for Trump's crimes." But, private meetings with House and Senate Republicans so close to the Capitol were infused with the symbolism of his return as the U.S. president who threatened the American tradition of the peaceful transfer of power.

Reporters gather outside the Capitol Hill Club as Donald Trump holds his first meeting with GOP lawmakers since the January 6th attack. This photo was taken by APR news director Pat Duggins while "on assignment in Washington, D.C.
Pat Duggins
Reporters gather outside the Capitol Hill Club as Donald Trump holds his first meeting with GOP lawmakers since the January 6th attack. This photo was taken by APR news director Pat Duggins while "on assignment in Washington, D.C.

"It's frustrating," said former U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who made his own unsuccessful run for Congress as a Maryland Democrat in the aftermath of Jan. 6, the day when police engaged in hand-to-hand fighting to stop Trump supporters who stormed the building in an effort to overturn President Joe Biden's election.

Dunn spoke of the "irony" of Trump returning to the area and lawmakers now embracing him. "It just shows the lack of backbone they have when they're truly putting party and person over country," he said. "And it's sad."

Biden was overseas Thursday attending a summit of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, but the president's campaign unveiled a new ad blaming Trump for lighting the "fire" of Jan. 6 and threatening democracy.

Many of those who once stood up to Trump are long gone from office and the Republicans who remain seem increasingly enthusiastic about the possibility of him retaking the White House, and the down-ballot windfall that could mean for their own GOP majorities in Congress.

Thursday afternoon offered the first encounter in years between Trump and McConnell, who once blamed Trump for the "disgraceful" attack that he called an "insurrection" but now endorses the party's presumptive nominee.

"We had a really positive meeting," McConnell said. "He and I got a chance to talk a little bit, shook hands a few times."

As democracies around the world come under threat from a far-rightward shift, some analysts warn that the U.S. system, once seemingly immune from authoritarian impulses, is at risk of populist and extremist forces like those that Trump inspired to sack the Capitol.

"This is just another example of House Republicans bending the knee to Donald Trump," said House member Pete Aguilar of California, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus.

Making January 6th a cornerstone of his reelection campaign, Trump celebrates those who stormed the Capitol as "warriors" and "patriots," and he has vowed to pardon any number of the more than 1,200 people charged with crimes for the assault on the seat of U.S. democracy.

Moreover, Trump has vowed to seek retribution by ousting officials at the U.S. Justice Department, which is prosecuting him in a four-count indictment to overturn the election ahead of the Jan. 6 attack and another case over storing classified documents at his Mar-A-Largo home.

Republicans, particularly in the House but increasingly in the Senate, are vigorously following his lead, complaining of an unfair justice system. It's having noticeable results: the House and Senate GOP campaign arms scored some of their highest fundraising periods yet after a jury found him guilty in the New York hush money case.

When former GOP Speaker Paul Ryan on Fox News reiterated this week that he wouldn't be voting for Trump and wished Republicans had another choice for president, he was immediately ostracized by Trump allies.

"Paul Ryan, you're a piece of garbage," said House member Troy Nehls, R-Texas. "We should kick you out of the party."

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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