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Republicans and Democrats stick to their party corners in responding to Trump verdict

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Soon after former president Donald Trump's historic conviction, his allies on Capitol Hill ramped up their attacks on the New York criminal case. Congressional Republicans are working to discredit the felony counts in the court of public opinion - this as Democrats say the verdict is proof that no one is above the law. Joining us now is NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Hi there.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey there.

SUMMERS: So, Claudia, from what you've been hearing from members of Congress, are there any themes jumping out in the way that they're responding to this news?

GRISALES: Yes. So we should note lawmakers are not in Washington. They're spread out all across the country for recess. But it's notable. Even without the in-person coordination, their statements are all extremely similar. And it really highlights the partisan divide in Congress when it comes to Trump, and it underscores congressional GOP members are all very closely aligned with Trump or they're going to choose silence when it comes to this moment. Those who are taking one of those two approaches - saying the charges should have never been brought, or they're fully adopting Trump's message that his conviction is proof that the Justice Department has been weaponized against him.

Democrats are really offering a counter-message on the same issue. They say the verdict is proof the judicial system is working. So it really underpins the different realities these parties are in right now.

SUMMERS: Right. Now, if I'm reading the calendar correctly, I think members of Congress return here to Washington next week. What do you expect then?

GRISALES: Right. We're going to expect House Republicans to dig deeper into this prosecution team. For example, House Oversight Chairman Jim Jordan is demanding members of that team, including Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, appear before his panel next month.

SUMMERS: And, Claudia, I'm personally curious about where Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is on all of this because he's had some very public splits with former President Trump, as you know, over policy, not to mention McConnell once called Trump's handling of the January 6 riot at the Capitol disgraceful. But at the same time, he's also aligned with Trump on a number of big votes, said he'd support them in November's election. What has McConnell had to say?

GRISALES: Right. He's put out some statements on social media saying these charges should have never been brought in the first place, and he's expecting the conviction to be overturned on appeal. So you can see he's trying to try to split the difference between supporting his party's position and not going too deep into the territory of questioning the government or the judicial system. This is a long-running theme for McConnell in his relationship with Trump. And this is all as he prepares to end his run as the longest-serving GOP leader in the Senate.

SUMMERS: And what about other Republican leaders?

GRISALES: Well, when it comes to the folks who are going to be sticking around in leadership, we see them full-force embracing Trump. This includes house Speaker Mike Johnson, and he also shared a statement saying that it was a shameful day in American history to see Trump facing these convictions. He said it was a purely political exercise, and he also mentioned the weaponization concerns, echoing other members of the Republican Party who have raised that. So, again, Republicans are sticking to the theme that they believe that they need to stay in Trump's good graces to remain in their roles.

SUMMERS: We've got a couple seconds left, Claudia. You mentioned that Democrats are pointing to this as proof that the system works, which is a completely different explanation at this moment. What does this tell us about the message each party thinks the voters can relate to?

GRISALES: Yeah. It's clear these two parties have very different conceptions of how voters feel about the world. Democrats are going to be pushing the government and President Biden's role here as a - representing the calm...

SUMMERS: Right.

GRISALES: ...Status quo, while Republicans are focused on this vision of a country and government in shambles.

SUMMERS: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you.

GRISALES: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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