Trump serenaded by Republicans on first visit to Capitol since January 6

<span>Donald Trump with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill on Thursday.</span><span>Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images</span>
Donald Trump with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill on Thursday.Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Donald Trump went to the US Capitol to rally congressional Republicans in his first visit since 6 January 2021, when his supporters descended on the building in an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election result in Trump’s favour.

A packed room full of House Republicans sang Happy Birthday to Trump, who turns 78 on Friday.

Reports emerging from the meeting attributed radical policy proposals and a variety of freewheeling comments across a range of topics to the former president, including a description of Milwaukee – which will host next month’s Republican national convention at which Trump’s nomination will be made official – as a “horrible city”.

The comment could be politically awkward given Milwaukee was chosen because Wisconsin, the state in which it sits, is expected to be a key battleground in November’s election.

Trump also reportedly raised the idea of imposing an “all-tariff policy” that would eventually replace income tax, according to CNBC.

Related: Pelosi condemns Trump’s Capitol visit: ‘Returning to the scene of the crime’

The proposal suggested that Trump – who raised import tariffs during his presidency, at one point triggering a trade war with China – was contemplating a vastly more protective regime if he wins re-election.

Mainstream economists condemned it as unworkable. “Broadly substituting tariffs for income tax is a sure way to hit hard low and middle income Americans and reward [the] top,” David Kamin, a professor at New York University law school and former member of the Biden and Obama administrations, wrote on X.

Trump also reportedly urged the party to talk “correctly” about abortion – reflecting a concern that the issue could be a major vote-winner for Democrats following the US supreme court’s decision in 2022 to overturn Roe v Wade, which had guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion.

The matter should be left to the states to decide rather than subject to a nationwide ban, said Trump – who has repeatedly claimed credit for the annulment of Roe v Wade. He added that he supported exceptions to restrictions in the case of rape, incest or threats to the life of the mother.

In a bizarre digression, the president revisited his long-running feud with Nancy Pelosi, the former Democratic House speaker. He cited one of Pelosi’s four daughters – whom he described as “a wacko” – as saying he and Pelosi could have been “perfect together” in different circumstances.

He did not name the daughter and expressed reservations over his difference with Pelosi, who is 84.

One of Pelosi’s daughters, Christine, responded on X: “Speaking for all 4 Pelosi daughters – this is a LIE. His deceitful, deranged obsession with our mother is yet another reason Donald Trump is unwell, unhinged and unfit to step foot anywhere near her – or the White House.”

The high-profile meeting was meant to set out Trump’s priorities for a second presidency, but is also expected to see him demand that the GOP further intensify efforts to overturn a recent conviction by a New York court on felony charges.

Before the meeting, anti-Trump and pro-Palestinian protesters were seen gathering outside the Capitol Hill Club. One sign visible from one protester read: “No one is above the law.” Some protesters implored Republicans entering the meeting to not “drink the Kool-Aid”.

Trump, the presumptive GOP 2024 presidential nominee, was found guilty last month of 34 counts of document falsification relating to hush money paid to an adult film star, Stormy Daniels, shortly before his 2016 election victory.

He has since corralled the Republicans into pushing a narrative line that the conviction is a result of the Department of Justice being weaponised against him by Joe Biden – even though the DoJ has no jurisdiction over the New York state court in which he was tried.

Thursday’s visit came a day after his Republican allies secured a significant victory in a House of Representatives vote to hold the attorney general, Merrick Garland, in contempt of Congress. Garland is being held in contempt for refusing to turn over recordings of an interview Biden gave to a special prosecutor, Robert Hur, appointed to investigate the president’s illegal retention of classified documents.

The meeting was billed in advance as forward-looking, with Trump supposedly focused on his agenda for a future presidency.

But a focus on the legal cases against him is likely to be given equal – or perhaps greater – priority.

This could, according to Politico, include urging greater efforts to defund the office of special prosecutor Jack Smith. Smith was notably appointed by the justice department to investigate Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection and the removal of classified documents from his presidency to his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida.

Congressional Republicans are also preparing, at Trump’s urging, legislation that would move state cases against him, including the New York conviction and a separate charge of attempted election interference in Georgia, to federal courts.

Trump apparently signified his desire for congressional support in an expletive-laden phone call with Mike Johnson, the House speaker, after his 31 May conviction.

Johnson, who initially opposed an attempt by the far-right congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene to defund Smith’s office, has now backtracked and held talks with the House judiciary chairman, Jim Jordan, about how to target it through the congressional appropriations system.

“That country certainly sees what’s going on, and they don’t want Fani Willis and Alvin Bragg [the district attorneys in the Georgia and New York cases respectively] and these kinds of folks to be able to continue to use grant dollars for targeting people in a political lawfare type of way,” Jordan, a vocal Trump backer, told Politico.