Trump, House GOP relationship suddenly deteriorates

The relationship between President Trump and top House Republicans rapidly deteriorated Tuesday, as the president’s personal attorney attacked the GOP House leader and a member of caucus leadership, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), after she said she would vote to impeach Trump in the aftermath of last week’s Capitol riots.

The rift has opened up on the eve of a House vote where multiple Republicans are expected to side with Democrats to impeach Trump for “willfully inciting violence against the Government of the United States.”

House GOP leadership is not lobbying members to vote against the impeachment article in another clear sign of the growing differences.

Just last week, hours after a pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol, the top two House GOP leaders, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), voted to back Trump in throwing out the Electoral College votes of two states, Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Politically, that vote has come with some pain as corporations, wanting as much distance as possible from a conspiracy theory-fueled insurrection that endangered lawmakers and included calls for the hanging of Vice President Pence, cut off donations from Republicans.

Cheney, who is the conference chairwoman for the Republican caucus, the No. 3 position in leadership, said Tuesday night she would vote in favor of the article of impeachment. Cheney voted against the Electoral College challenges last week.

McCarthy, who has come under broad criticism for how he handled last week’s events, reportedly sparred with the president on Monday when Trump floated the conspiracy that it was antifa, and not right-wing extremists and his own supporters, who stormed the Capitol last week. McCarthy told Trump that was not the case, according to Axios.

The House GOP leader then told members of his conference on a call that the riot at the Capitol was not caused by antifa, but that it was led by right-wing extremists and QAnon adherents. He urged lawmakers not to further spread misinformation.

McCarthy and Scalise have shaped their tenures in leadership by their loyalty to Trump. The two men fiercely opposed Trump’s first impeachment, backed his reelection effort and refused to acknowledge Biden as president-elect for weeks. 

That has now opened them up to blame for last week’s riot, when an angry mob breached the complex and were captured in photos and videos attacking Capitol Police, carrying zip ties around the building and entering lawmakers’ offices.

Trump has increasingly surrounded himself with loyalists who are willing to tell him what he wants to hear, according to two people familiar with the matter.

“They told him lies and gave him false hope about the election and clearly we saw what that went to on Wednesday and the consequences of that,” said one former White House official.

He has shown no regret for his remarks in the months, weeks, days, hours and minutes leading up to the attack, which are widely seen as having encouraged the riot.

Trump told supporters at an event near the White House hours before the Capitol was attacked that they were going to walk down to the Capitol and that “you’ll never take back our country with weakness.”

On Tuesday, he said his remarks were “totally appropriate.” 

The president added that he felt impeachment would cause “great anger” in the country, rhetoric that alarmed some lawmakers and experts who are predicting further unrest around Biden’s inauguration.

Among the voices that continue to be in Trump’s ear is Rudy Giuliani, who has claimed that antifa was behind the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday, where a Capitol Police officer died. Giuliani, in an interview with The Hill, maintained that Trump bears “no responsibility” for what unfolded after his speech that day.

Giuliani went on to again blame antifa for the violence, even saying that he was collecting evidence. Law enforcement has yet to cite any such evidence, and the FBI has been clear that the loose collection of anti-fascists were not involved in what took place at the Capitol.

The former New York City mayor also harshly criticized McCarthy while talking to The Hill, likely reflecting frustration within Trump’s inner circle that even formerly loyal Republicans are now criticizing him.

“Kevin McCarthy doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about,” Giuliani said of the lawmaker repudiating the antifa theory.

“He doesn’t investigate. He’s part of the Washington establishment. They make up the truth and they repeat it to each other. You think they ever bother to investigate?” he said. He also criticized the FBI during the interview.

McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who tried to convince Republican senators not to join challenges of the Electoral College votes, believes Trump committed impeachable offenses, and that McCarthy has asked associates whether he should call on Trump to resign.

Trump has signaled he is dug in for the remainder of his term despite talk that he should be impeached or that the 25th Amendment should be invoked to remove him.

It’s still unclear if the Senate would have the votes to convict Trump and bar him from holding future office once he is impeached. Eighteen Republicans would need to join all 48 Democratic and independent senators to do so. 

Trump’s legal team is likely to look much different this time around than it was during his first impeachment trial, when White House counsel Pat Cipollone and attorney Jay Sekulow represented him in the face of charges he pressured Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

Giuliani, a figure who has become increasingly discredited through his association with Trump, said he would be willing to legally defend the president in a second impeachment trial. 

He said he didn’t think there would be a trial, “But of course I’d represent him if he wanted me to.”

Tags Capitol breach Donald Trump Jay Sekulow Kevin McCarthy Liz Cheney Mitch McConnell Rudy Giuliani Steve Scalise

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