What Trump Told Republicans in Meetings on Capitol Hill

When Donald Trump hosted meetings with Republicans in Congress on Thursday, it was the first time the GOP nominee for President had been on Capitol Hill since his supporters stormed into the chambers by force on Jan. 6, 2021 to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

A lot has happened since then. The Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion. House Republicans booted Kevin McCarthy as Speaker. And Trump was convicted of 34 felonies in a New York courthouse.

There was much to talk about.

Over the course of separate meetings with House members and Senators, Trump laughed about his conviction, praised current House Speaker Mike Johnson, and emphasized the need for Republicans to stay unified heading into November. He told Johnson’s frequent antagonist, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, to be “nice” to the Speaker, eliciting laughter from every corner of the room, according to some in attendance.

“It was a very joyful experience to have our leader back,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, the firebrand Florida Republican who led the motion to oust McCarthy as Speaker, tells TIME. Asked if Trump repaired the rift between Greene and Johnson, Gaetz says, “If he’s done that, we’ll send him to Gaza next.”

During his meeting with Senators at the National Republican Senatorial Committee offices, Trump also appeared to “bury the hatchet” with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senators who have been critical of the former President, a senior Republican Senate aide told TIME. In March, McConnell endorsed Trump for President, despite having previously said Trump was “morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 riot. “I don't think Trump was taking shots at anyone,” the aide said.

“I’m with them 1,000 percent. They’re with me 1,000 percent,” Trump told reporters Thursday afternoon after meeting with most Republican senators. “We agree on just about everything and if there isn’t, we work it out.”

Trump's visit coincided with a failed effort by Democrats in the Senate to pass a bill affirming the right for women nationwide to access in vitro fertilization (IVF) amid a national debate over the popular fertility treatment after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in February that embryos are considered children. The Southern Baptist Convention this week suggested the government should “restrain” how IVF is used.

Trump did not mention IVF in his meeting with House Republicans, lawmakers who attended the meetings told TIME, but he did emphasize that Republicans should unite behind his current position that decisions about abortion access should be left to the states. That stance is at odds with some of the GOP base, who are calling on Congress to pass a nationwide ban on abortion with no exceptions. “He just reminded us that it is a state issue,” says Rep. Roger Williams, a Texas Republican.

Rep. Tim Burchett, a Tennessee Republican, tells TIME that he didn’t disagree with anything Trump said during the meeting, but pushes back somewhat on Trump's position to leave abortion to individual states. Burchett says he supports adopting a national ban on abortion as part of the Republican platform at the national convention in July. “It wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit, but I don’t really think that’s going to happen right now,” he says. Trump told Republican lawmakers they would win more seats if they spoke about exceptions for rape and incest in some of the state abortion bans. But that’s not a message that will resonate with hard-line voters in Burchett’s district, he says. “He talked about states rights but he left it very open, ” adds Burchett.

Republicans say that Trump spent the most time talking about the economy and criticizing the Biden Administration’s policies. “Trump was as energized as I’ve ever seen him,” Rep. Ralph Norman, a Republican from South Carolina who originally backed former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in the presidential primary, tells TIME of the meeting. “He laid out a vision of what he's gonna do… He's confident he's going to be reelected.”

Trump told Fox News after his meeting with Senators that his running mate was “probably” in the room and that he would most likely unveil his pick during the Republican convention that starts on July 15. Punchbowl News reported that Trump mentioned Senators Tim Scott of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and J.D. Vance of Ohio by name during the meeting and joked that Scott “wasn’t a good presidential candidate” but has been a “great surrogate for him.”

Trump appeared to go slightly off topic during the House meeting, sources say, and at one point started ranting about crime rates. He called Milwaukee—where Republicans are holding their convention next month—a “horrible city.” Democrats quickly tore into Trump’s denigration of the biggest city in a pivotal swing state. “Add it to the list of things Donald Trump is wrong about,” Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wrote on X, including the clown emoji.

At one point, Trump floated the idea of eliminating the U.S. income tax and replacing it with tariffs on imports, according to those who attended the House meeting. Norman says the tariffs were pitched as a way to even the playing field with China.

The former President also commented on the flotilla of Russian warships that reached Cuba on Wednesday. The surprising move by President Vladimir Putin was viewed by many as a show of force after the Biden Administration said that Ukraine could use U.S.-provided weapons near Kharkiv while attacking Russian forces. The Russian ships are not carrying nuclear weapons, but they are capable of launching some of Russia’s most highly touted missiles. Trump said such a display by Russia “would not happen with him” and that it’s a “very real threat,” according to Norman.

When a Republican asked him about immigration and the border, Trump allegedly claimed falsely that there are “15 to 17 million” illegal migrants in the U.S. who are registered to vote. Trump vowed to deport them all.

“I think he did the right thing,” Williams says, “by coming to where his base is and where his ambassadors will be—guys like me… He brought the whole team in. He gave everybody a pep talk, and I thought it was great.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Virginia Democrat, called Trump’s visit to the Capitol an attempt to get everyone who works in the building “to forget what that day was,” referring to Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump’s supporters stormed the chambers in protest of President Biden’s election victory.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat from Georgia, spoke with TIME on his way to vote on the IVF measure. “Trump is an American citizen and he can come to the Capitol,” Warnock says. “The question is why are my Republican colleagues going over there at a moment when we’re trying to stand up for families and their ability to have children.” Republicans ultimately blocked the measure.

Trump’s visit to the Capitol comes two weeks after a Manhattan jury found him guilty on 34 felony counts for falsifying business records related to a sex scandal before the 2016 election, making him the first former President ever to be convicted of a crime. Congressional Republicans have blasted the verdict in an unprecedented and unified manner, claiming the prosecutor and judge were biased. Some have echoed Trump’s baseless suggestion that the Biden administration played a role in the prosecution. During his meeting with House Republicans, Trump didn’t appear too concerned about his felon status or his upcoming sentencing on July 11. “He laughed about it,” says Norman. “It has actually helped him.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who wrote that it was “bring your felon to work day” in response to Trump’s visit, told TIME that it’s “unimaginable” that Republicans who were in the Capitol on Jan. 6 would rush to attend Trump’s meeting. “It demonstrates, from my point of view…the hunger for power—that people could endure that assault and then rush to stand by him.”

House Republicans began their meeting by singing “Happy Birthday” to the former President, who turns 78 on Friday, and by presenting him with the game ball and bat from the congressional baseball game the previous night. Republicans beat the Democrats 31-11.

“He told me, ‘I watched the baseball game…y’all played great,’” says Williams, who coached the Republicans to their fourth straight win. “He picked out a few players who he said could have done a little better.”

Write to Nik Popli at nik.popli@time.com.