WASHINGTON (AFP) - Donald Trump met with US House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in Florida Thursday amid a tug of war over the Republican Party's future, with congressional leadership appearing eager to present a united front with the former president.
Winning back the House of Representatives from Democrats in 2022 was the primary topic of the meeting at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, according to a readout provided by Save America, a political action committee linked to Trump.
"President Trump's popularity has never been stronger than it is today, and his endorsement means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time," it said.
McCarthy, a Trump ally who encouraged his baseless election fraud claims, distanced himself from the outgoing president after Trump was accused of inspiring his supporters to storm the US Capitol earlier this month.
He declared that Joe Biden was the winner of the November election and that Trump "bears responsibility for (the Jan 6) attack on Congress by mob rioters." But on Thursday (Jan 28) McCarthy was back to kissing Trump's ring, as the two men grinned broadly in a photograph taken in a cavernous, ornate room reminiscent of a European palace.
"Today, President Trump committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022," McCarthy said in a statement that also attacked Democrats for "impeaching a president who is now a private citizen." "A united conservative movement will strengthen the bonds of our citizens and uphold the freedoms our country was founded on," McCarthy added.
With Trump impeached for an unprecedented second time, and the Senate preparing to try him on the charge of "incitement of insurrection," it was unclear how much pull Trump would retain on Washington beyond his presidency.
But over the past week several Republicans, following recent polling showing strong party support for Trump, have signalled they will remain in the brash billionaire's orbit - or at least not publicly break with him.
Pro-Trump Republicans will hold huge sway in the coming years.
They are a large enough contingent to influence the party primaries. But should Trump be cast out and they abandon the GOP the party would be severely weakened as it challenges Democrats for congressional control.
"You have the Trump wing of the party, wanting to purge those who have stood up to the president's lies, (and) you have the establishment wing of the party wanting to purge the party of Trump," Republican former congressman Carlos Curbelo told MSNBC.
"Right now, it's clear that the Trump wing is dominant."