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J.D. Vance Trump Trial
Sens. J.D. Vance and Tommy Tuberville speak at a press conference across the street from the Manhattan criminal court. Stefan Jeremiah/AP

Lawmakers Turn Trump Trial Trip Into Republican Rite of Passage

Republicans are playing “hooky from work,” as one GOP lawmaker put it, to show their support for Trump when they’re supposed to be representing their constituents in Congress.

With 20 minutes to go until the House held its first votes of the day around 4 p.m. on Thursday, nearly a dozen Republicans were still on an Amtrak train from Manhattan to Washington, D.C.

Their absences wouldn’t mean much in a typical Congress, but for the GOP’s paper-thin majority, just a few missing lawmakers means GOP leaders have to delay votes — or risk Democrats, temporarily, holding the majority on the House floor.

But as former President Donald Trump stands trial in Manhattan, his most devoted lawmakers have decided it’s more important to make appearances at the courthouse than it is to show up for work in Congress, proverbially kissing the ring and literally positioning themselves for future spots in a theoretical Trump administration.

Many GOP lawmakers hardly see a problem.

“We don’t have much to do up here anymore,” said Rep. Troy Nehls, who wore a tie with the former president’s portrait plastered over it on Thursday.

Nehls wasn’t one of the House Republicans who chose to attend Trump’s trial — at least on this day — but he certainly isn’t ruling out an appearance.

Many Republicans seem to think standing by Trump at this pivotal moment is more important than spending time in the Capitol, attending hearings and voting in committees. The truth is, the Trump trial has already begun interfering with House business; the House Oversight Committee moved a markup from Thursday morning to 8 p.m. to accommodate committee members who wanted to show their support for Trump in New York.

“Nothing animates the concept of do-nothing Congress more than canceling hearings and missing votes to go watch your nominee’s criminal trial,” Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell said.

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Former President Donald Trump exits the courtroom for a break. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP

But it’s not just Democrats criticizing the show of support at the expense of legislative business. One House Republican told NOTUS that they understand people who think Trump should be president, but this member said they didn’t understand rallying around the former president at a trial where “he has pretty clearly done something that most Americans find abhorrent.”

“We have real, actual work that we’re doing, and people are going to play hooky from work to go hang out with a friend in New York. That’s not how I was raised, and I think it’s unfortunate that, apparently, some people were raised differently,” this GOP member said under the condition of anonymity.

The anonymity might be for good reason. More members are expected to attend the trial and show their support in the closing days. Republican Rep. Eric Burlison of Missouri said he wanted to go to Manhattan with the group today, but spots were limited in the courtroom. He told NOTUS he’ll go to New York on Monday instead.

Burlison also noted that the courtroom appearances weren’t officially organized by the Freedom Caucus — of which Burlison is a member — but he said Freedom Caucus members independently organized the visits.

“It really does give him encouragement; he really does appreciate it,” Burlison said of Trump. “Sometimes through your toughest times, it’s the people that stand next to you that help you get through it — and they’ll never forget.”

It’s that last note — that Trump may not soon forget the gesture — that may be most revealing. Nehls acknowledged as much to NOTUS.

“He’s our nominee, he’s gonna be the 47th president, they may be going up there because they may want to get a little face time with them,” Nehls said. “Not a bad idea.”

Of the 11 Republicans who went to New York on Thursday, three didn’t even bother coming back for votes: Reps. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Trump favorite Matt Gaetz of Florida.

As for the Republicans staying in D.C., many still wanted to note that didn’t mean they’re not supporting Trump from afar.

One such Republican, Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, said that while he supports Trump, he’ll stick to supporting him from D.C.

Burchett told NOTUS he had never been to New York — “It’s not really on my bucket list,” he said — but he noted that Trump already had plenty of support in the courtroom.

“I’m the 435th most powerful member of Congress,” Burchett claimed. “I’m not sure President Trump’s gonna lay awake at night thinking, ‘Dadgum, why wasn’t Tim Burchett there?’”

Katherine Swartz is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.