WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump sought comfort in the figurative embrace of his evangelical supporters Thursday as the FBI director he recently fired told Congress about their conversations, telling a religious gathering that they are “under siege” but will emerge “bigger and better and stronger than ever.”
Trump made no reference to Comey in his remarks to the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual gathering. But hours before the president arrived to make his first public comments of the day, Comey told the Senate intelligence committee that Trump tried to get him to pledge loyalty and drop an investigation into potential collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign.
Trump abruptly fired Comey on May 9. A private attorney for Trump said the president never asked Comey to stop investigating anyone.
In his remarks to the conference, Trump pledged to always support the right of evangelicals to follow their faith, which some conservatives believe is under attack by government.
“We will always support our evangelical community and defend your right and the right of all Americans to follow and to live by the teachings of their faith,” the president told more than 1,000 activists meeting at a Washington hotel across town from Capitol Hill, where Comey was testifying in a nationally televised hearing
“And as you know, we’re under siege. We will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever. You fought hard for me and now I’m fighting hard for all of you,” Trump said.
He said his one goal as president is to “fight for the American people and to fight for America and America first.”
Trump spoke about his actions to safeguard religious freedom and continued, for a second straight day, to label congressional Democrats as “obstructionists” who are blocking his agenda. Yet it is differences of opinion among Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, standing in the way of what Trump wants to do on health care and other issues.
Trump also mentioned getting the Senate to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the Supreme Court, and keeping a campaign promise to repeal a rarely enforced IRS rule barring churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates at the risk of losing their status.
“As long as I’m president, no one is going to stop you from practicing your faith or preaching what is in your heart,” he said.
Trump said restoring freedom also means repealing and replacing the health care law enacted in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama, saying high deductibles and premiums have turned it into a “catastrophe.” But a replacement health care bill has yet to clear Congress despite seven years of pledges by Republicans to scrap the law and start over, and despite the fact that the GOP has full control of the White House and Congress.
The Republican-controlled House passed a bill with the bare minimum of GOP votes and none from Democrats. Senate Republicans are working on their version of the bill, but are divided about the approach.
Trump ignored that and blamed Democrats, calling them “obstructionists.” He said they’ve gone so far to the left in terms of opposing him that “they’re bad right now for the country.”
He urged the audience to help send more Republicans to Congress in next year’s midterm elections, noting the GOP has just a two-vote edge in the Senate and a slim advantage in the House.
“We have to build those numbers up because we’re just not going to get votes” from Democrats, he said. “Sadly, we’re going to have to do it as Republicans because we’re not going to get any Democratic votes and that’s a sad, sad thing.”
Trump also ignored the fact that three Democratic senators voted to confirm Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York and Vivian Salama in Washington contributed to this report.
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