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Republican lawmakers rally around Trump after his arraignment in Miami

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The spectacle in a Miami courtroom this week leaves Republicans with a choice. It's to support or critique their party leader, who's now been indicted.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former President Trump pleaded not guilty to 37 counts involving his refusal to return classified documents. His presidential rivals are responding in different ways. Mike Pence told The Wall Street Journal he read the indictment and can't defend what's alleged, though Trump deserves his day in court. Vivek Ramaswamy promised to pardon Trump if elected. Tim Scott and Ron DeSantis suggested there's a double standard for conservatives.

INSKEEP: And then there are Republicans in Congress who face their own elections in 2024. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh is hearing that some support Trump because their base voters do.

Hey there, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What is the case that Republican lawmakers are making?

WALSH: Some GOP lawmakers I talked to yesterday in the Capitol, they point out that President Biden had classified documents in his possession, and he hasn't been indicted. But we should note there is a major difference in that President Biden is also being investigated by a special counsel, but he's returned documents and has been cooperating. Former President Trump denied he had some documents, didn't hand over documents once he received a subpoena, and then his own legal team found some classified materials. And then the former president encouraged his lawyers to get rid of some of those.

INSKEEP: Yeah. When you talk about a double standard, you're effectively talking about some other case other than Trump's case. Do you hear Republicans talking about the specific charges against Trump?

WALSH: No. Most lawmakers are really avoiding the substance of the indictment and really sticking with their argument that this is really all political. A lot of Republicans stress that they hear from constituents back home. Republican voters are very supportive of former President Trump. GOP aides I've talked to also stressed that House members especially, who are up for reelection every two years, don't want to get crosswise with Trump and potentially face their own primary challenge. And some lawmakers say that with Trump on the ticket as the nominee, he could help them keep control of the House in 2024. Here's the GOP chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee, Richard Hudson.

RICHARD HUDSON: I think he would help because he would turn out voters that normally wouldn't turn out.

INSKEEP: Well, that's pretty frank. You're talking about the House here. Some senators also face reelection in 2024, although the way the elections work, some do not face reelection next year. What do you hear from the senators?

WALSH: Senate Republicans are split. A lot echo the same arguments as House Republicans, especially like Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED CRUZ: No president in the history of our country has been prosecuted by his successor. This is something banana republics do. And it is profoundly harmful to the rule of law.

WALSH: But there are some Senate Republicans I talked to yesterday who are growing more publicly comfortable talking about the need to look for an alternative in the presidential race. South Dakota Republican Senator Mike Rounds has endorsed his colleague Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina's presidential campaign. And Rounds says it's a problem for Republicans to have the front-runner of their party facing two indictments.

MIKE ROUNDS: We'll allow the legal process to work its way through. In the meantime, we've got other candidates who can look forward.

INSKEEP: I guess when he says the legal process, this is, of course, before the justice system. So does Congress have any role other than giving opinions?

WALSH: The House Republicans want to be part of this going forward. Some are talking about using the upcoming debate on federal spending bills to defund special counsel Jack Smith's investigation or defund the FBI. House Republicans are also ramping up their oversight investigations of the Biden administration and the Biden family. I talked to House Oversight Chairman Jim Comer, who's planning to send two more subpoenas to FBI Director Chris Wray for documents in his investigation of the president and his family. Comer says whistleblowers who his committee has talked to have evidence of corruption of Biden and his son, Hunter. But he hasn't provided any evidence of those claims yet.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Deirdre Walsh, thanks so much.

WALSH: Thanks, Steve. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.