House Democrats reacted with mixed emotions this week to the historic indictment of former President Trump, with some cheering the move with bald jubilation and others approaching much more cautiously ahead of Trump’s expected arraignment on Tuesday.
While both camps are united behind the central premise that no one in America is above the law, the tonal contrast highlights both the toxic nature of Trump’s relationship with his congressional rivals and the Democrats’ deep-seeded anxiety that the indictment will only invigorate his conservative base and make him a more formidable force in the race for the White House next year.
Fueling that divide is the nature of the case being brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D), which centers around Trump’s role in providing hush payments to an adult film actress more than six years ago — a salacious saga divorced from the more serious allegations facing the former president, which relate to his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
On one side of the divide are Democrats who cheered Bragg’s decision with evident glee. That group is composed largely of liberal and minority lawmakers, including members of the far-left “squad,” who have long accused Trump of being a racist and are now relishing an indictment they view as karmic justice.
“It’s time that we ensure Trump is banned from running for any public office again,” echoed Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.).
Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) shared in the celebration, saying the indictment is “one of many steps” toward eliminating Trump as a threat to fair elections.
“I will always believe that this twice-impeached former president is a threat to our democracy,” he tweeted.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) tweeted a short clip of a crowd of women giving a standing ovation.
And Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) responded to Trump’s indictment with a single word: “Good.”
The celebratory mood is not being shared — at least not publicly — by a long list of other Democratic lawmakers, who are treading more carefully into the explosive debate. Those voices, which include members of Democratic leadership, have been no less critical of Trump over his political career, but are taking pains not to jump to conclusions before seeing the charges — which remain under seal — or reach a verdict before a jury does.
“This is not a moment to celebrate. This is a terrible moment for the country. But no one is above the law,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) said on Twitter. “Those lock her up chants that people were chanting like hyenas in a stadium around the country were never funny, perhaps they now understand why.”
There are also lingering anxieties that Trump, the current frontrunner in the early field seeking the GOP presidential nomination, will get a boost from Bragg’s decision, as Republicans — even some of Trump’s 2024 rivals — race to defend the former president from what they consider a politically motivated witch hunt designed solely to damage his presidential prospects.
Shedding a no-holds-barred approach to Trump in the past, many Democrats have adopted a neutral tone in response to the indictment, keeping a distance from the judicial process to let the wheels of the courts grind away.
“No one is above the law, and everyone has the right to a trial to prove innocence,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the former Speaker who was a target of the pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, said in a brief and subdued statement. “Hopefully, the former President will peacefully respect the system, which grants him that right.”
“In America we believe in the rule of law,” echoed Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a fierce Trump critic. “We should wait to hear from the grand jury before jumping to conclusions.”
Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), who was among the managers of Trump’s first impeachment, called it “a somber day for our nation.”
And House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) adopted the same muted tone, characterizing it as “a serious moment” for the country.
“A jury of Donald Trump’s peers will now determine his legal fate,” Jeffries tweeted.
Trump’s GOP allies, meanwhile, have rallied in his defense, characterizing the indictment — the first against any president, sitting or former — as a blatant “weaponization” of government by Democrats to take down a political rival.
“It's Trump derangement,” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said Thursday evening as he was leaving his Capitol Hill office. “It's an illness of hatred that just — it shouldn't be in American politics.”
Wilson said House Republicans will move “immediately” to uncover the details of Bragg's probe, and he has confidence that GOP investigators — notably Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), chairman of the Administration Committee — will demonstrate that Bragg’s prosecution has been politically motivated from the start.
“We're going to find out, from the inside, as to their correspondence and communications,” he said.
Bragg’s case revolves around a $130,000 hush payment made by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, to the adult actress Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election in return for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump a decade earlier — an affair Trump denies.
A Manhattan grand jury voted Thursday to indict Trump, who is expected to be arraigned in New York on Tuesday. The specific charges remain unknown, sealed until Trump’s appearance, but reports from CNN and NBC indicate he will face around 30 counts related to business fraud.
Not all of Trump’s critics cheered the arrival of the indictment this week.
Trump is also facing a series of separate criminal investigations into his conduct, including his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and the discovery of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, his resort-residence in South Florida. And some Democrats have hoped that the Justice Department, which is investigating Trump on several fronts, would have moved more quickly on those other cases to lend more gravity to their underlying charge that Trump is unfit to serve as president for another term.
Those voices fear that Bragg’s case, by coming first, will only bolster the argument from Trump and his allies that Democrats are pursuing “frivolous” cases designed solely to damage Trump politically.
“After inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, pressuring local officials to overturn the 2020 election, receiving financial kickbacks from foreign powers, and numerous other crimes during his presidency, it’s embarrassing and infuriating that the first indictment against Trump is about ... Stormy Daniels,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement.
“The January 6th Select Committee and bold leaders like Jamie Raskin did their job,” he continued. “It’s time for Merrick Garland and the Justice Department to do theirs.”
Amid the emotional debate, some lawmakers are urging restraint by pointing out an obvious hole in the discussion: No one weighing in knows what charges await Trump next week.
“Just a reminder,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), “that there is no rule that you have to express your opinion before reading the indictment.”