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Trump meets with Republican members of Congress on Capitol Hill

Why Trump and Congress are such an odd fit

There’s the Donald Trump that Republicans see on TV — a man who commands large audiences, inspires undying loyalty in his supporters and shatters political norms without thinking twice.

But then there’s the other Trump, who, in real life, causes problems for GOP lawmakers, forcing them to clean up or explain away every mistake or miscue — until Trump just says no, he meant what he said all along.

Thursday was, in many ways, a perfect example of what politics is like under Trump, and could be again if he wins on Nov. 5.

In a closed meeting at the Capitol Hill Club, Trump told House Republicans that Milwaukee was a “horrible city.” Milwaukee just happens to be where Republicans are holding the convention next month to formally nominate for president. We reported the news immediately.

Shortly after the Trump meeting ended, members of the House Republican Conference circled the wagons, denying that he made the remark.

But their explanations were all over the place.

Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), the chair of the House Administration Committee, declared Trump “did not say this.”

Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) said Trump was referring to the crime rate, not the city itself.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Wisconsin GOP Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Tiffany and Glenn Grothman said that Trump’s comments were in reference to election integrity.

A spokesman for the GOP convention in Milwaukee claimed Trump was referring to a dispute over whether Pere Marquette Park can house protests during the July gathering. The Wisconsin Republican Party said Trump, in fact, was right to criticize Milwaukee.

By the end of the day, Steil was on television acknowledging that Trump did say it, but he was “talking about specific issues in the city,” not Milwaukee itself.

The DNC has a pair of billboards going up tomorrow in Milwaukee playing up Trump’s comment.

But it wasn’t just this instance Thursday that put Republicans in an awkward spot.

Trump told House and Senate Republicans that their abortion position cost them seats in 2022. The former president declared Republicans should adopt the position that the law should allow for abortion in the case of rape, incest and the life of the mother. That’s an issue that sharply divides Republicans.

Trump also said that he “loves tariffs” and even floated replacing the income tax with the revenue from tariffs.

Speaker Mike Johnson disagrees with some of these Trump positions.

Johnson told us in an interview that Trump made the tariff remark “with a smile.” Johnson added, “I’m not suggesting this is the plan.”

But on abortion, Trump finds himself in direct opposition to Johnson’s position. Johnson doesn’t back exceptions for abortion:

Johnson said it would take a while to establish GOP consensus on the issue.

The Trump-Senate GOP thaw: Two hours later, a more subdued Trump met privately with Senate Republicans, who described a 180-degree shift from the confab with the House GOP. Senators who attended the meeting used the words “reserved,” “gracious” and “unifying” to describe the former president.

Trump went out of his way to praise Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, shook hands with the Kentucky Republican and chatted one-on-one. According to multiple attendees, Trump said McConnell wasn’t the reason Republicans lost winnable seats in 2022 — even though he previously said the exact opposite — and blamed abortion instead.

Uncharacteristically, Trump didn’t go on the attack against any of his longtime foes in the GOP, some of whom were in the room.

Republican senators said they were pleasantly surprised that Trump didn’t revert to his brash tone and instead listened quietly as they pleaded for his help to win in November. That’s notable, of course, because many McConnell and other GOP senators have openly blamed Trump for their misfortunes the last few cycles.

Senate Republicans are desperate to avoid the same outcome in 2024. And they believe they can’t win the Senate majority without embracing Trump. Full stop.

It’s why Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Trump to help them hammer vulnerable Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), noting that Trump is polling better in those states than the GOP challengers to Tester and Brown.

Republicans told Trump that their fortunes are directly connected, which was a major theme throughout the meeting. Translation: It’s time to bury the hatchet and focus on winning, not personal jabs.

“[Trump] wants to do everything to help us elect a majority in the Senate, and [he] thought the map looks great,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune told us.

For the moment, there was peace. We’ll see how it holds.

— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.