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Trump's federal indictment will loom large as Congress returns to session

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is now House speaker, then President Trump attend a rally in Bakersfield, Calif., on Feb. 19, 2020. McCarthy said House investigators would play a key role in scrutinizing the investigations into the former president.
David McNew
Getty Images
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is now House speaker, then President Trump attend a rally in Bakersfield, Calif., on Feb. 19, 2020. McCarthy said House investigators would play a key role in scrutinizing the investigations into the former president.

House Republicans say they'll return Monday fresh off a week of infighting that paralyzed the lower chamber, but they'll have a renewed focus on this: to discredit the inquiry that led to former President Donald Trump's historic indictment on 37 countsas well as Trump's political enemies.

House Republicans had launched aggressive investigations into President Biden, his family and his administration soon after they took control of the chamber in January.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was elected to the post with Trump's support after 15 contentious rounds of votes, said Saturday that House Republicans will get to the bottom of the investigation into Trump.

"Biden's weaponization of the federal government is going to disrupt our nation, because it goes against our core belief in equal justice under the law," he tweeted. "House Republicans will not stand for it."

Trump's indictment may allow McCarthy to call a truce with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who are also ardent Trump supporters.

Last Tuesday, the House floor's business came to a sudden halt when nearly a dozen conservative members tanked a vote as part of a revolt against McCarthy for his deal with Biden to lift the debt ceiling. Days of tense negotiations followed without a clear resolution, leaving the unresolved disagreement pending.

Still, even as House Republicans face an uphill battle debunking the indictment's detailed picture of alleged wrongdoing by Trump, they continue to come to Trump's defense. Controversial tweets by two Freedom Caucus members, Reps. Clay Higgins of Louisiana and Andy Biggs of Arizona, suggested that Trump's supporters could respond with violence (Higgins later appeared to backpedal his cryptic tweet).

House panels will take lead on renewed investigations

McCarthy said the Republican chairs of the House Judiciary and House Oversight committees, Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and James Comer of Kentucky, respectively, will lead the response to the Trump case.

Jordan and Comer, "along with all House Republicans, will get the answers Americans deserve," McCarthy tweeted.

Trump has deep ties to House Republicans — especially the Freedom Caucus — and his indictment has likely escalated pressure on his congressional allies to ramp up their work.

"Comer, Jim Jordan, the things those committees are finding are incredible," Trump told a crowd at a campaign rally stop on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.

On Sunday, Jordan told CNN's State of the Union that as a first step, the panel is waiting for the Justice Department to turn over a "scope memo" outlining the Trump investigation.

"This is as political as it gets," said Jordan, a McCarthy ally who is also a member of the Freedom Caucus.

Jordan also defended Trump, arguing he declassified all the documents in his possession previously when he was president, though there's no such evidence Trump did that.

He declined to say whether the panel would seek testimony from the Justice Department's special counsel, Jack Smith, who leads the inquiry into the classified documents as well as Jan. 6.

Senate Republicans are largely quiet

The Senate's top two Republicans, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Whip John Thune, have yet to publicly address Trump's federal charges.

Although there's no love lost between the two and Trump, they'll likely face questions about the historic indictment.

The chamber's No. 3 Republican, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, slammed the case against Trump. He, as well as other critics of the charges like Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Josh Hawley of Missouri, say Biden should face similar scrutiny for classified documents found in his home.

"You can't help but ask why this is happening," he said. "It feels political, and it's rotten."

The tone from more moderate Senate Republicans — including Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mike Rounds of South Dakota — was more muted.

"American citizens look to our leaders and our justice system to have integrity — and that integrity is once again being called into question," Rounds said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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