Donald Trump told his religious right supporters what they wanted to hear today at the Values Voter Summit — that he’s protecting religious freedom and bringing Judeo-Christian values back to America.
The first sitting president to address the gathering, he took the stage this morning at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., to applause and chants of “USA!” and then praised Tony Perkins, president of the event’s sponsor, the Family Research Council, as a “tremendous guy.” (The far-right, anti-LGBT organization is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
Trump noted the frequent invocations of God by the nation’s founders, then said, “How times have changed. But now they’re changing back again.”
He touted the “religious freedom” guidance issued by his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, last week, which gives federal employees and contractors a wide berth to claim religious objections to their duties, constituting a broad license to discriminate against LGBT people and others who might offend their religious sensibilities.
He boasted of reinstating the policy of denying U.S. funds to any overseas family planning organization that so much as mentions abortion and of broadening exceptions to the contraceptive coverage mandate under the Affordable Care Act. (His latest action concerning the ACA is announcing an end to subsidies that help low-income Americans buy health insurance, yet he told the gathering, “We’re gonna have great health care in our country.”)
He spoke proudly of the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, a man “in the mold of the late, great Antonin Scalia.” And he noted that with the holiday season approaching, “We’re saying Merry Christmas again,” as if anyone had been prevented from saying that.
He said he hoped that Congress would pass his proposed tax cuts “as a Christmas gift to hardworking families,” although the cuts would overwhelmingly benefit the most wealthy. He bragged of his administration’s response to natural disasters, ignoring that the response to hurricane destruction in Puerto Rico is widely seen as inadequate and that relief workers treated themselves to a “spa day” there.
He hit other expected points — about respecting the flag, our history, law enforcement, and military members (not mentioning, of course, that he is drumming transgender people out of the military), and that in foreign policy, he is standing up to “radical Islamic terrorism” and bad actors around the world.
“Above all else, we know this,” he said. “In America we don’t worship government. We worship God. Inspired by that conviction, we are returning moral clarity to our view of the world and the many grave challenges we face.”
He also said, “When America is unified, no force on earth can break us apart” — but in reality, his presidency has been extremely divisive.
Other speakers this morning included Kellyanne Conway, his former campaign manager who has continued as an adviser, who was introduced as “the woman who saved the world” by helping prevent a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Among the others scheduled to speak at the conference, which continues through Sunday, include former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka; religious right activist brothers David and Jason Benham; former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann; current members of Congress Mark Meadows, Mark Walker, Chris Smith, and Vicky Hartzler; Roy Moore, the anti-LGBT, anti-abortion former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, now the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from the state; Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House; Steve Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart and a former Trump campaign chairman and White House adviser; Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson; longtime religious right leader Gary Bauer; Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel; Fox News host Laura Ingraham; Fox News contributor Todd Starnes; Edwin Meese, U.S. attorney general in the Reagan administration; and former Army officer Oliver North, known for his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s.
Trump's full speech is below.