House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, at left, and former President Donald Trump, at right.
Orlando, Florida CNN  — 

House Republicans had hoped to use their annual retreat to get on the same page about upcoming policy battles and devise a strategy to preserve their fragile majority.

Instead, they find themselves playing defense for former President Donald Trump.

While most Republicans had hoped to steer clear of any presidential politics – despite being in Florida, home to two major potential GOP rivals in 2024 – Trump’s announcement over the weekend that he expects to be imminently arrested has put him back in the center of the conversation and forced Republicans to publicly rally to his side. Even some GOP lawmakers who have called for the party to move on from Trump have lined up to offer their full-throated defense of the ex-president, attacking the Manhattan District Attorney’s office that is investigating Trump as a political witch hunt.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, echoing calls from inside his conference, has instructed GOP-led committees to investigate whether the Manhattan DA used federal funds to probe a payment made by Trump’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 presidential election.

McCarthy said Sunday that he already talked to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, about an investigation into the matter, and hinted that there could be more developments on that front soon.

“Remember, we also have a select committee on the weaponization of government, this applies directly to that. I think you’ll see actions from them,” McCarthy told reporters at a news conference kicking off their three-day policy retreat.

But Republicans weren’t in complete lockstep with Trump. McCarthy carefully broke with Trump’s calls to