(The Hill) – When former President Trump left Washington, D.C., in January 2021 under the cloud of the Jan. 6 riots, his future in the GOP and American politics was uncertain.
On Tuesday, Trump will return to the nation’s capital for the first time in 18 months with his grip on the GOP steadied and talk of a potential 2024 White House campaign heating up.
Trump will deliver the keynote speech at a summit hosted by the America First Policy Institute, a think tank formed by a band of former Trump administration aides to promote the former president’s policies.
Other panelists attending the summit include former Trump administration officials such as ex-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and former economic adviser Larry Kudlow, as well as lawmakers aligned with Trump, Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), the chairman of the Senate GOP campaign arm; and fellow GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Ted Cruz (Texas).
But the focus will be on Trump, who has not been in Washington, since he lifted off on Air Force One the morning of Jan. 20, 2021, without attending the inauguration of his successor, Joe Biden.
When Trump was last in the capital, Republicans like Graham and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) were condemning Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and saying it was time for the party to move on from the former president.
When Trump addresses the audience Tuesday, he will look out on a crowd of Republican lawmakers, former administration officials and conservatives who have wholeheartedly embraced the former president and his record.
Linda McMahon, the former head of the Small Business Administration under Trump and now the head of the America First Policy Institute, used her opening remarks at the summit to highlight Trump’s successes in cutting regulations, appointing conservative judges, cracking down on the southern border and investing in the military.
When McMahon teased Trump’s speech on Tuesday, the crowd applauded.
“I think we’re all looking forward to that,” she said.
The prospect of a 2024 campaign will overshadow Trump’s remarks Tuesday. Allies have said the former president could announce a third White House bid as early as this summer.
While this week’s policy summit is ostensibly meant to lay out the path forward for ensuring the Trump administration’s accomplishments become a cornerstone of the conservative movement, Trump himself has been largely focused on grievances over the 2020 election since departing office.
In a speech in Arizona on Friday, Trump appeared alongside Kari Lake, an Arizona gubernatorial candidate who has been among the most outspoken election deniers running for statewide office.
In Florida on Saturday, Trump blasted the Biden administration over its energy and border policies, and he vowed to reimpose Schedule F, an action that would allow him to fire federal employees with ease and replace them with loyalists.
Trump’s return to Washington also coincides with the culmination of eight hearings held by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the Capitol. The panel has specifically zeroed in on Trump’s role leading up to and during the attack to paint a clear narrative that the former president spread falsehoods about the election, encouraged his supporters to descend on the Capitol and then sat idly by as violence unfolded.
“Every American must consider this: Can a president who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the violence of Jan. 6 ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again?” committee vice chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), an outspoken Trump critic, said at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing.
Trump’s speech on Tuesday will also take place as his former vice president, Mike Pence, seemingly lays the groundwork for a potential presidential bid of his own in 2024. Pence has been increasingly blunt about the need for Republicans to lay out a forward-looking agenda.
“Some people want this election to be about the past, but elections are always about the future. Democrats would love nothing more than for Republicans to take our eye off the ball and focus on days gone by,” Pence said in Arizona on Friday in support of Karrin Taylor Robson, a gubernatorial candidate challenging Trump’s preferred candidate.
“If the Republican Party allows itself to become consumed by yesterday’s grievances, we will lose,” Pence said. “But if we come together, keep our eye on the ball and focus on the future, we won’t just win the next election, we will change the course of American history for generations.”
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