The historic arraignment of former President Trump on Tuesday sparked an immediate — and highly caustic — dispute across Congress and the country, exacerbating tensions between Trump’s GOP allies and his Democratic critics just as House Republicans have added a probe into the Manhattan District Attorney to their long list of investigative priorities.
Those hostilities were evident in the demonstrations outside the Manhattan courthouse where Trump appeared to face 34 felony charges related to hush payments to an adult film actress in 2016.
They emerged further on cable news, where lawmakers in both camps jousted over the nature and propriety of the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, against the Republican frontrunner in the 2024 presidential race.
And they were glaring on social media, where Republicans howled about political interference in elections, Democrats demanded equal treatment under the law and both sides sought to get an upper hand in the public relations battle heading into next year’s presidential contest.
The debate — in many ways an extension of the dispute over Trump that followed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol — did not lack for melodrama.
Trump’s fiercest defenders compared the former president to Jesus and fat-shamed Bragg, while Republicans in general accused Democrats of using Trump’s arrest as a way to cling to power.
“Trump is joining some of the most incredible people in history being arrested today. Nelson Mandela was arrested, served time in prison. Jesus — Jesus was arrested and murdered by the Roman government,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) told Right Side Broadcasting host Brian Glenn in New York on Tuesday.
Greene was drowned out by protesters when making brief comments outside the Manhattan courthouse before Trump’s arrest. Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) also made a brief appearance outside the courthouse.
Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), who served as physician to the president during the Trump and Obama administrations, referred to Bragg as “FAT ALVIN” on Twitter, urging him to “go ahead and celebrate with another jelly donut, but get ready to answer some serious questions from Congress!” In a subsequent statement, Jackson called Bragg a “spineless weasel.”
And House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who like most House Republicans sought to overturn the 2020 election results, said Bragg’s case proves that “there is nothing [Democrats] won’t do to hold onto power.”
“Today is a historic low for our nation,” he tweeted.
Even some of Trump’s harshest GOP critics defended him against Bragg’s indictment.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said in a statement that while he finds Trump “unfit for office,” he thought Bragg’s case “sets a dangerous precedent for criminalizing political opponents and damages the public’s faith in our justice system.”
Democrats largely stopped short of celebrating Trump’s arrest, urging protesters to be peaceful and defending the judicial branch from congressional interference. But they wasted no time condemning Republicans for attacks on Bragg.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) also appeared outside the courthouse ahead of Trump’s arrest, saying Bragg “simply followed the facts where they led” and criticizing Greene for rallying outside.
“Marjorie Taylor Greene needs to take her ass back to Washington and do something about gun violence, do something about affordable housing, do something about childhood poverty, do something about climate change,” Bowman said in a video reposted to his Twitter account.
He added, “Do your freaking job Marjorie Taylor Greene, you don’t need to be in New York City talking that nonsense.”
“Instead of reflecting on the importance of holding leaders accountable to our American democracy, prominent Republicans have instead called Mr. Trump the victim, castigated the New York District Attorney, denigrated the justice system, and fomented national unrest,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.).
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also weighed in, suggesting Republicans are abusing their authority by going after Bragg.
“I believe that Mr. Trump will have a fair trial that follows the facts and the law. There’s no place in our justice system for any outside influence or intimidation in the legal process. As the trial proceeds, protest is an American right but all protests must be peaceful,” Schumer said.
Other Democrats were more strident, accusing Republicans of “bullying” law enforcers to protect a political ally.
“In a desperate attempt to protect Mr. Trump, the most extreme House Republicans are already trying to bully the law enforcement officers involved,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “I do not know how this case will be decided, but I do know that DA Bragg will not be deterred or intimidated by the political stunts Jim Jordan and Kevin McCarthy throw at him.”
Some were pithier in their reactions. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) posted a photo of Trump on Twitter with the caption “Karma.”
The White House has declined to comment on Trump’s indictment and arrest.
Following Trump’s announcement last month that he expected to be arrested in the hush money probe, McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House Speaker, promised that Republicans would investigate Bragg. Jordan (R-Ohio), the Judiciary chairman, soon led two other committee chairs with a request for Bragg to testify to Congress about the case.
“Members of Congress simply should not be commenting or interfering in the legal process and we should let it play out,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said on MSNBC just before Trump’s arraignment.
McCarthy reiterated his commitment to investigating Bragg after Trump’s court appearance on Tuesday, accusing him of trying to interfere in the “democratic process” and pushing back on Bragg’s suggestions that Congress does not have the authority to investigate the indictment.
“Bragg’s weaponization of the federal justice process will be held accountable by Congress,” McCarthy tweeted, noting that Bragg’s office admitted that approximately $5,000 spent on the investigation came from federal funds.
The heightened partisan tensions come at a volatile time in Washington, just as leaders in both parties are set to launch into a high-stakes battle over the size and scope of the federal government with enormous implications for the economy. A failure to raise the debt ceiling could lead to a government default; an impasse over government funding could lead to a shutdown; and there’s been no sign, even before Trump’s arrest, that the sides were ready to ease their demands for the sake of a deal.
The question of Trump’s fate will not let up on members of Congress any time soon. Trump’s next in-person court appearance was set for Dec. 4 — about two months before the official start of the 2024 Republican presidential primary race, which kicks off with the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 5.
Next year’s election loomed large over Tuesday’s arraignment, with some of Trump’s GOP allies rejecting the notion that his indictment will influence his 2024 bid.
“President Trump continues to skyrocket in the polls, and just like with the Russia hoax and both sham impeachments, President Trump will defeat this latest witch-hunt, defeat Joe Biden, and will be sworn in as President of the United States of America in January 2025,” House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) said in a statement.
Greene and other GOP members of Congress are set to join Trump at his Mar-a-Lago residence on Tuesday evening, where the former president is scheduled to deliver remarks after he did not speak to reporters during his roughly two hours at the Manhattan courthouse.