Most Republicans in districts won by Biden won’t talk about Trump’s indictment

WASHINGTON — Most of the 18 House Republicans who represent districts that voted for President Joe Biden don’t want to talk about the elephant in the room: Donald Trump, the former president and frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination, and his federal indictment on mishandled classified information.

These Republicans are walking a tightrope as they seek re-election in tough territory. For their primaries, they will need the support of loyal GOP voters, who are solidly in Trump’s corner and have embraced his unsubstantiated claims of a federal plot to bring him down. But they stand to lose in the general election if they fend off independents and swing voters, who are skeptical of Trump and tend to be decisive in their constituencies.

“They recognize that this Trump indictment is extremely problematic,” said Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman from a swing district in Pennsylvania who retired after 2018.

“Many know that if they say too much about Trump being a villain or a huge liability, it will alienate a significant portion of their base,” he said. “That’s why they’re dancing around this issue. It’s really difficult for them to navigate politically.

As Trump surrendered to federal authorities on Tuesday afternoon and pleaded not guilty in Miami, only one of 18 GOP lawmakers in Biden-won districts had criticized Trump for the allegations against him.

“Obviously what the president did was wrong,” said Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, who was first elected in 2016 and represents a tightly divided Omaha-based district. “Having thousands of secrets in your house, showing them to people who haven’t been read and not giving it all back, saying you gave it all back and then lying about it, I – there’s no way to defend that. And I just think the emperor has no clothes.

The other 17 Republicans in districts like Bacon’s have taken a different approach — most are still working to cultivate their own brands, having first been elected last year under new congressional cards. Trump looms over their re-election bids as they could find themselves on the same ballot with him next year, their political fates intertwined.

Some GOP lawmakers have publicly ignored the indictment entirely, including New York Reps. Marc Molinaro and Mike Lawler. (Their offices did not respond to requests for comment.) Others, like Rep. Anthony D’Esposito of New York, turned to political questions when asked about Trump’s latest legal woes. And yet others framed the indictment as a political attack on Trump, as in the case of Rep. Nick LaLota of New York, who tweeted that it “results in political retaliation”.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., issued a general statement about the need for justice to proceed without weighing in on the allegations and noted that Biden also faces a special counsel investigation into his handling of classified documents. .

“As both legal processes run their course, I hope that our country’s political and community leaders will lower the temperature of rhetoric, refrain from intentionally stoking societal divisions, and remain committed to preserving trust in the values foundations of our shared American justice. system,” said Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent.

Most of the other House Republicans, who sit in safe red-light districts where their only realistic chance of defeat is the GOP primaries, are rallying behind Trump — including President Kevin McCarthy of California. But members of swing districts are on the front lines of the battle for control of the tightly-divided House, with Democrats targeting them for defeat next year.

A GOP strategist working on the 2024 home races said it was too early to assess the political impact of the indictment. “Right now,” the strategist said, Republicans in pro-Biden districts are “managing like they should — most aren’t saying much” — while those speaking out are “focusing on the argument of militarization”.

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-California, called Trump’s indictment a “continuation of, really, eight years of far-left bad behavior,” arguing he’s been going after Trump since his 2016 campaign.

“They’re ready to use the executive branch this time, the DOJ, to pull out all the stops to eliminate a political opponent who they know will win the election,” Garcia said Friday in an interview with the radio show ” The Morning Answer”.

A rare Republican in a Biden-won district celebrating Trump after the indictment is Rep. George Santos, the disgraced New York lawmaker who faces federal charges against himself for wire fraud, theft of funds public and money laundering.

“Another indictment of President Donald J. Trump will not cause the American people to abandon the greatest champion of freedom this great young nation has ever known,” Santos tweeted, adding the hashtag “#Trump2024NowMorethanEver.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said the GOP’s endorsement of Trump after the indictment proves he is no longer the party that backs law enforcement.

“Republicans can no longer claim to be the party of public safety with their recent repeated attacks on law enforcement who keep our communities safe,” DCCC spokeswoman Courtney Rice said in a statement. . “The DCCC will continue to hold vulnerable House Republicans accountable for loyalty to their party and to the president federally indicted and twice impeached for public safety.”

The Republican National Congressional Committee, which declined to comment on the indictment or discuss its political impact, hit back at the DCCC.

“No Republican will accept party law enforcement lectures on defunding police and releasing felons to gun down families on the streets,” spokesman Jack Pandol said.

Bacon said it was important for Republicans to speak out on the allegations against Trump and show their party still supports “the rule of law.”

“We can’t do without it,” he said.

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