When Donald Trump addressed the Values Voter Summit of Christian conservatives as a presidential candidate in 2016, questions arose as to whether the twice-divorced billionaire could appeal to religious folks.
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But the crowd this year, a devoted segment of the U.S. president's base, showed no hesitation in Trump fervor as he delivered remarks to the conference Friday in Washington, D.C. Trump became the first sitting president to address the conservative gathering, which has attracted controversy and criticism especially for its ardent stances against homosexuality and abortion.
Addressing the predominately Evangelical base that helped elect him, Trump ticked off boxes of campaign promises he has acted on since entering office, pledging to turn back the clock in what he described as a nation that has drifted away from its religious roots.
"I pledged that in a Trump administration, our nation's religious heritage would be cherished, protected and defended like you have never seen before," Trump said. "Above all else in America, we don't worship government. We worship God."
Just mentioning his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court gave Trump a standing ovation. "We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values," Trump said to applause.
Trump praised his repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which limited political activity or endorsements by religious groups that received tax exemptions, as well as his administration's effort to expand the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for birth control. The White House has also issued sweeping guidance on religious freedom that critics have said could erode civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Trump waded again into the cultural war that has captured his attention in recent weeks, declaring to loud applause that "we respect our great American flag," a not-too-subtle reference to his repeated denunciations of NFL players who have taken to kneeling during the national anthem.
But Trump also struck several empathetic notes, offering condolences to the victims of Las Vegas mass shooting and pledging support to the people of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico which have been ravaged by recent hurricanes. His kind words for Puerto Rico stood in stark contrast to his tweets the day before when he declared that federal personnel would not be able to stay "forever" to help the island, which remains largely without power weeks after the storm.
The president also made a call for Congress to enact his agenda, including a tax cut by the end of the year. And he vowed again to undo the Obama health care law, chiding Congress for forgetting "what their pledges were so we're going a little different route." The night before the speech, the administration announced it would halt payments to insurers, a move certain to roil insurance markets.
"Our values will endure. Our nation will thrive. Our citizens will flourish. And our freedom will triumph," Trump said.