President Trump unleashed his fury against those who tried to remove him from office at a prayer breakfast Thursday, a day after Senators voted to acquit, or clear him of charges, in his impeachment trial.
Speaking from a stage where he was joined by congressional leaders, including Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who led the impeachment charge against him, Trump shattered the usual appearance of cooperation between political parties at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
“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 at the annual event.
The “ordeal” was Trump’s impeachment trial on two charges. Senators voted 52-48 to acquit him on abuse of power and 53-47 to acquit him on obstruction of Congress. Wednesday’s late afternoon vote was almost entirely according to political party, with all but one of the Senate’s 53 Republicans voting “no” on both charges. To remove Trump from office, 67 senators would have had to vote “yes.”
His remarks contrasted with the more sober comments before him, including keynote speaker and Harvard professor Arthur Brooks, who had described a “crisis of contempt and polarization,” or opposing beliefs, in the nation and urged those gathered to “love your enemies.”
“I don’t know if I agree with you,” Trump said as he took the microphone, and then he proceeded to demonstrate it.
“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” he said in an apparent reference to Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a longtime Trump critic who cited his faith in becoming the only Republican to vote for Trump’s removal.
“Nor do I like people who say ‘I pray for you’ when you know that is not so,” he said, in a reference to Pelosi, who has offered that message for the president when the two leaders have sparred publicly.
The House speaker shook her head at various points during Trump’s remarks but didn’t otherwise acknowledge the president’s attack. Earlier she had offered a prayer for the poor and the persecuted.
Trump also heralded his administration’s efforts to support free religious expression, an important issue to the evangelical Christians he values as part of his political base. Those efforts include protecting prayer in public schools and reducing federal funding for organizations that discuss abortion services with patients,
Republican who voted to acquit Trump gave many reasons for keeping him in office: He’s guilty, but his conduct wasn’t impeachable; his July telephone conversation with Ukraine’s president was a “perfect call”; and there’s an election in 10 months and it’s up to voters to determine his fate.
For Trump, there was one overriding message to draw from his acquittal: Even at a time of maximum political danger, it’s his Republican Party.
“We’ve never had a president, as I said, who’s as vindictive and nasty as this one, and he strikes fear in the hearts of a lot of people,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said last week.
Republican senators were worried not just about being the target of an angry tweet but about a Trump-backed primary challenger or a revolt among the party’s strong supporters.
Although personally upset by impeachment, Trump is betting that he can sell his acquittal to the American people as proof that he did nothing wrong. Democrats are left with the more challenging task of explaining the details of the Ukraine case to the American people.