Former Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt hands a figurine to...

Former Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt hands a figurine to President Donald Trump after he signed a policy directive to send American astronauts back to the moon, and eventually Mars, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, in Washington. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed a directive Monday that enables NASA to again focus its efforts on sending Americans to the moon — and eventually Mars.

“It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use,” he said in a Roosevelt Room ceremony. “This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint, we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars. And perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond.”

Trump, administration and congressional leaders were joined by Buzz Aldrin, one of the first two people to walk on the moon; Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, who was among the last Americans to walk on the moon; and astronauts Christina Koch and Peggy Whitson.

Schmitt, an Apollo 17 pilot, landed on the moon 45 years ago to the day.

“What do you think, Jack? We’ll find some other places out there?” the president asked of Schmitt.

“Yes, we should,” the astronaut responded. “Learn from the moon.”

Trump called the directive “a giant step toward that inspiring future and toward reclaiming America’s proud destiny in space.”

Also Monday, as congressional Republicans conference on the tax overhaul legislation that Trump wants ready for his signature by Christmas, the White House said the president would address Americans on the package Wednesday.

White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said Trump will talk directly with Americans about how the “reform will lead to a brighter future for them and their families.”

House and Senate Republicans are working to reconcile differences on their respective bills to cut taxes and simplify the tax code.

Trump on Monday also hosted about two dozen Evangelical leaders who, after the meeting, told reporters they commended his decision last week to formally declare that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

They gave him a Friends of Zion award.

Trump also has begun the years-long process of relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

He made the announcement amid cautions from allies, Western and Arab, that he would complicate or threaten the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, who also claim the holy city of Jerusalem as their capital.

Early Monday morning, the president rejected a New York Times report published Saturday that depicted him as a voracious consumer of cable news television who tweets defenses of himself as he watches.

“Another false story, this time in the Failing @nytimes, that I watch 4-8 hours of television a day — Wrong!” he tweeted at 8:17 a.m. “Also, I seldom, if ever, watch CNN or MSNBC, both of which I consider Fake News. I never watch Don Lemon, who I once called the ‘dumbest man on television!’ Bad Reporting.”

Trump in December 2015 tweeted a compliment of Lemon, a CNN anchor.

“Great interview tonight @donlemon — very professionally done. @CNN,” he wrote.

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