Reporter’s Notebook: Washington is no longer the center of politics; it’s now New York City

When the U.S. Congress first convened on March 4, 1789, it did so at Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan.New York was the first seat of the incipient U.S. government. Congress decamped to Philadelphia a year later. Lawmakers eventually dropped anchor in what is now Washington, D.C.But for all the Congressional action in New York of late, one might think Congress is “Lost in New York” this spring.Start spreadin’ the news. Lots of members of Congress are leavin’ today. And Monday. And Tuesday. And Thursday. A host of Republicans now routinely head north to sit in on the trial of former President Trump in New York.FROM CAPITOL HILL TO THE COURTROOM: BOB MENENDEZ DOESN’T WANT YOU TO BE DISTRACTED BY SHINY OBJECTSThe federal corruption trial of Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is also underway at the Daniel P. Moyinhan federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan. It’s named after the late, legendary Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat. Menendez will likely be holed up there every day court is in session for his trial between now and perhaps the middle of July.The government accuses Menendez of doing bidding for New Jersey businessmen to curry favor with Egypt and Qatar. The feds also allege the senator obstructed justice for another Garden State businessman, pushing for leniency in another criminal case. Prosecutors say they’ll show how Menendez and his wife scored a Mercedes-Benz convertible for their actions.The Mercedes is nice. But what really glitters in this case is gold. Gold is a theme in multiple James Bond films. There was “Goldeneye.” “Goldfinger” was a hit in 1964. The “Man with the Golden Gun” arrived a decade later. But if a jury convicts Menendez, a new title may emerge — “The Senator with the Golden Bars.”Menendez is alleged to have scored 13 gold bars in exchange for helping one of the businessmen secure access to a development project in Qatar. Attorneys for the government say they have proof Menendez googled the price of gold.If found guilty, political observers could deem the Menendez affair “From Qatar With Love.” And don’t forget that Menendez was just on trial seven years ago in an unrelated bribery case. That case ended in a hung jury. This isn’t “You Only Live Twice.” If there’s a hung jury again, perhaps the appropriate title is “You’re Only Tried Twice.”There are often parallels in politics. But in this scenario, the trials of the New Jersey Democrat and Mr. Trump are perpendicular.Travel one block west on Worth Street from the Moynihan courthouse and hang a hard right. You’ll find yourself at 100 Centre St. That’s home to the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse. That’s where former President Trump is on trial in his hush money case involving Stormy Daniels.Don’t be surprised if the trial of the former president overshadows the Menendez proceedings. The courthouse for Mr. Trump’s case literally casts a shadow on the building where the Menendez case is underway.Like Menendez around the block, Mr. Trump is present every day court is in session.But consider the Republican lawmakers who surfaced in Gotham. Not just to sing praises of the former president, but to excoriate President Biden, the U.S. justice system, Judge Juan Merchan and a laundry list of others.On Monday, the cavalry of senators Tommy Tuberville R-Ala.; JD Vance, R-Ohio; and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., arrived to extoll Mr. Trump.On Tuesday, Reps. Cory Mills, R-Fla., and Byron Donalds, R-Fla., comprised part of the traveling roadshow.On Thursday, Reps. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla.; Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.; Bob Good, R-Va.; Eli Crane, R-Ariz.; Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.; Michael Waltz, R-Fla.; and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., trekked up the Acela Corridor, showing they’d stand by Mr. Trump in a New York minute.JURY PICKED, OPENING STATEMENTS BEGIN IN US V. MENENDEZ: ‘USE YOUR GOOD JUDGMENT’But, without question, the star surrogate for former President Trump was House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.”I wanted to be here myself to call out what is a travesty of justice,” Johnson said of the former president’s trial. “I’m speaking with you outside because the court won’t allow us to speak inside the building. That’s just one of the many things that are wrong here.”Johnson is speaker of the House. The officer of Article I in the Constitution. But the court calls the shots when it comes to Article III.Johnson’s appearance had multiple goals. First, this was an extension of the speaker’s sojourn to Mar-a-Lago a few weeks ago to tout an election integrity effort alongside Trump. Secondly, Johnson is trying to remain in the best graces of the volatile former president. Don’t forget that Johnson survived an effort to oust him just last week by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. Even though Johnson retained the speakership, there are certainly some conservative factions who are disappointed in him. They oppose his spending pact with Democrats, his efforts to renew a controversial overseas spying program that sometimes sweeps up information about Americans and the bill to aid Ukraine. So, Johnson is certainly trying to flex his MAGA bona fides.But in another respect, this is about political stability for Johnson and congressional Republicans.Mr. Trump is likely his party’s nominee for the fall. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., won’t lead the GOP next year, regardless of whether they’re in the majority or minority. McConnell’s now endorsed the former president. But there’s no love lost between the Kentucky Republican and Trump. The only reason Johnson survived Greene’s gambit to unseat him was because of Democratic votes. That’s not optimal. But it beats chaos. So, part of the strategy by Johnson is to keep the party unified. And as long as he and Trump are on the same page, it helps Johnson maintain the speakership. If Johnson disappears, Republicans will have a monster of a challenge electing a speaker next year — if they’re in the majority.Truman Capote wrote, “I love New York. Even though it isn’t mine.”New York is not necessarily the province of these lawmakers. New York is the center of the universe. Not the center of politics.But with these major trials unfolding just feet from one another in Manhattan, the political center of gravity appears to have shifted north from Washington, D.C., for now.
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