WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump stressed the promises he had delivered on and celebrated traditional values in a triumphant return to a politically conservative religious group he addressed a year ago as an underdog in the presidential race.
Trump entered the packed room to a standing ovation and cheers, pumped his fist to chants of “USA,” and then thanked and encouraged a receptive crowd at the Values Voter Summit who played an important role in helping elect him president.
“We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values,” Trump said as he touched on the key values and issues of the members of the audience. “We don’t worship government. We worship God.”
Trump reminded the gathering of the biggest promise he kept: the appointment of Neil Gorsuch — “a conservative like the late great Justice Antonin Scalia” — to the Supreme Court, an accomplishment that came only with a major change in Senate rules.
“I pledged in a Trump administration that our nation’s religious heritage would be cherished,” he said, adding that he has done that “like you have never seen before.”
He said he had returned to policies that bar the use of federal funds around the world to pay for abortions, issued an executive action to allow churches and religious organizations to engage in politics without losing their tax exempt status and cut the most regulations ever.
“One of the promises I made you was I’d come back. And I don’t even need your vote this year,” Trump said. “So this morning I am honored and thrilled to return as the first sitting president to this incredible gathering of friends.”
No other president has attended the summit because its sponsoring group, the right-leaning Family Research Council, has created controversy in the culture wars with its battles to abolish abortion and to block LGBT rights. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled it a “hate group.”
When Trump appeared a year ago before this conference of social conservatives and Christians, he was considered an underdog in the presidential race and an unlikely Christian standard-bearer as a thrice-married former casino owner.
In a speech to warm up the crowd for the president, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, acknowledged some doubts and uneasiness about Trump a year ago when he appeared at the conference.
But he said conservative religious activists decided to vote for him, even if they didn’t know who he really was when they went to the polls last November.
“We said it would be worth it for just one thing, if we could get a conservative like Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, it would be worth it,” Meadows said.
But it was not only the Gorsuch nomination, but the “150 other conservative court nominees” Trump appointed who will “turn back this country to its roots. It is that we can applaud this morning.”
Trump cited the Las Vegas mass shooting as “a sad and happy” event, acknowledging the carnage but celebrating the heroism and selflessness of people taking care of each other. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome us,” Trump said.
And he promised that America would continue to aid the areas in the West being swept by forest fires, and Houston and Puerto Rico where hurricanes wreaked devastation. “We’ll be there. We’re going to be there. It’s not a question of a choice,” he said.
Trump also touted his push for tax cuts, his battle against ISIS, his standing up to the “rogue” countries of Iran and North Korea, and his continued sanctions on the socialist regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.