WASHINGTON (NEWSnet/AP) — Donald Trump whipped up House and Senate Republicans Thursday in his first group meetings with federal lawmakers from his party since leaving office.

Despite the federal charges against Trump for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, and his recent guilty verdict in an unrelated hush money trial, the former president has emerged as the leading candidate for the Republicans in the 2024 election cycle.

A packed room of House Republicans sang “Happy Birthday” to Trump in the private breakfast meeting at GOP campaign headquarters across the street from the Capitol. The lawmakers presented him with a baseball and bat from this week’s Congressional Baseball Game.

Trump bragged that even his telephone rallies for lawmakers could draw bigger crowds than popstar Taylor Swift, who has yet to make any endorsement.

“President Trump brought an extraordinary amount of energy, excitement and enthusiasm this morning,” said House Speaker Mike Johnson, noting high fund-raising tallies since the guilty verdict. “We’re feeling good.”

Trump told Johnson Thursday he thinks the speaker is doing a “terrific job,” according to a Republican in the private meeting and granted anonymity to discuss it. He asked Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the speaker’s chief Republican critic, if she was being “nice” to Johnson, another Republican said.

Trump spent about an hour with House Republicans delivering free-wheeling remarks, fielding questions and discussing issues — including Russia and immigration and also tax cuts and other priorities for a potential second term.

On one major controversial issue, Trump told lawmakers that abortion rules should be left to the states and said he supported exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother, lawmakers said.

The Senate Republicans meeting with Trump was scheduled for the afternoon.

Many potential priorities for a new White House administration are being formulated by a constellation of outside groups, including Project 2025, laying the groundwork for executive and legislative actions, though Trump has made clear he has his own agenda.

Republicans who remain seem increasingly enthusiastic about the possibility of him retaking the White House are hopeful for a down-ballot ripple effect for GOP seats in Congress. Many of those who once stood up to Trump are long gone from office.

“Look, we’ve got to win. And our ability to get a majority in the Senate is intrinsically linked to Trump winning,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

Follow NEWSnet on Facebook and X platform to get our headlines in your social feeds.

Copyright 2024 NEWSnet and The Associated Press. All rights reserved.