WASHINGTON – Taking a victory lap, President Donald Trump attacked supporters of the impeachment drive Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast.
“As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people,” Trump said a day after the Republican-run Senate acquitted him of impeachment charges in a largely partisan vote.
Trump, who said he would expand on those thoughts at a White House speech at noon, told religious leaders that impeachment supporters “know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.”
“Weeks ago and again yesterday, courageous Republican politicians and leaders had the wisdom, fortitude and strength to do what everyone knows was right,” he continued.
“So many people have been hurt, and we can’t let that go on,” he said.
Signs of the political tensions generated by impeachment dominated the prayer breakfast, an annual event designed to bring together people of different parties and religious faiths.
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As he entered the venue, Trump waved a copy of USA TODAY, which ran the headline “ACQUITTED,” and a copy of The Washington Post headlined “Trump Acquitted.”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways. I do not believe he could’ve picked a better day to bring us all together,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said before the president spoke.
One of the people on the dais at the Washington Hilton Hotel was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who led the impeachment drive. Trump didn’t shake Pelosi’s hand before his State of the Union address Tuesday night. She ripped up a paper copy of Trump’s speech.
Trump and Pelosi did not interact personally Thursday, but Trump said he does not like people “who say ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that is not so.” In December, the House speaker said, “I pray for the president all the time.”
After the event, Pelosi said it was “completely inappropriate” for Trump to criticize people for looking to their faith as a basis for their decisions – “especially at a prayer breakfast.”
Several speakers cited political polarization and prayed for the nation to get past it.
“Contempt is ripping our country apart,” said social scientist Arthur Brooks, the event’s keynote speaker.
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Trump said he wasn’t sure he agreed with Brooks’ analysis.
The president recited a list of things he has done for his religious supporters, from support of school prayer to international efforts to prevent the persecution of Christians.
The National Prayer Breakfast is a Washington tradition that stretches back to 1953, when President Dwight Eisenhower established it at the suggestion of evangelist Billy Graham.
Trump spoke less than 17 hours after the Senate finished its impeachment trial by acquitting him of charges that he abused his power by trying to get Ukraine to investigate political opponent Joe Biden.
It was a partisan vote, with one exception: Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s nominee for president in 2012, voted to convict Trump on abuse of power. Citing the evidence, as well as his Mormon faith, Romney called Trump’s conduct “grievously wrong.”
Trump fired back in a midnight tweet about Romney’s loss in 2012, saying that if the candidate had “devoted the same energy and anger to defeating a faltering Barack Obama as he sanctimoniously does to me, he could have won the election.”
At the prayer breakfast, he said, “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.”
Kevin Kruse, a historian at Princeton University who has studied the National Prayer Breakfast, told USA TODAY, “I can’t say how bizarre it is for a president to use the moment – traditionally one devoted to bipartisanship and unity – to strike such a vindictive tone.”
Trump said he found it hard to admire people who backed impeachment: “When they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them, it’s not easy, folks. I do my best.”