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Trump uses the National Prayer Breakfast to pray for Schwarzenegger's "Apprentice" ratings

Trump uses the National Prayer Breakfast to pray for Schwarzenegger’s “Apprentice” ratings

For faith leaders already wary of Donald Trump, his Thursday speech at the National Prayer Breakfast asking them to pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s low ratings as host of “The Apprentice” probably didn’t do him much good.

But Trump didn’t seem to be speaking to Christians, Jews or Muslims with the speech — he used it to address America’s enemies across the world and make a moral case for his “America first” foreign policy and immigration reform.

“Freedom of religion is a sacred right but it’s also a right under threat all around us and the world is under serious, serious threat, in so many different ways,” Trump said.

“The world is in trouble — but we’re gonna straighten it out. That’s what I do. I fix things.”

Trump explained that’s why he’s been having such “tough” phone conversations with world leaders — seeming to confirm recent reports that he had testy phone calls with leaders in Australia and Mexico, in which he hung up on the former and threatened to send in the U.S. military to the latter country.

“So when you hear about tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it. They’re tough — we have to be tough,” he said. “We’re taken advantage of by every nation in the world, virtually.”

The speech painted an idyllic picture of a country founded on faith up against enemies committing “acts of wanton slaughter against religious minorities,” as he described ISIS. Sticking to script, Trump’s words were steeped in historical references to the Founders’ faith. Veering off into dark tangents, Trump spoke of ISIS committing “genocide” against Christians “where they cut off the heads, drown people in steel cages.”

“All nations have a moral obligation to speak out against such violence, to confront it, and confront it viciously if we have to,” Trump declared, back on-script. “My administration will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty in this land.”

That includes, he explained, his controversial executive order temporarily banning immigration from certain countries and halting the refugee program. He described the policy — which effectively bars immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries — as as part of the administration’s effort to “defend and protect religious liberty in this land.”

“There are those that would seek to enter our country for the purpose of spreading violence or oppressing other people based upon their faith or their lifestyle — not right. We will not allow a beachhead of intolerance to spread in our nation,” Trump said.

He described how the administration would create a vetting system to “help ensure those admitted into our  country fully embrace our values of religious and personal liberty.”

The security-focused speech did deliver one clear message to the Religious Right: Trump echoed his campaign-trail promise to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which blocks tax-exempt organizations, like churches, from funding or opposing political candidates. But even that seemed to ring hollow in a week when the White House announced it would continue enforcing an Obama Administration executive order barring companies with federal contracts from discriminating against LGBTQ workers.

Conservative pundit Erick Erickson praised Trump’s pick of Gorsuch in a piece that also said Trump “walked away from a core commitment to the poor and to evangelicals who supported him,” by committing to enforcing Obama’s executive order.

“He should not be allowed to hang his hat on one Supreme Court nominee when there are so many other areas in which the Obama administration wrecked havoc,” he wrote.

But Trump already won the week with Evangelical Christians with his pick of conservative favorite Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, and last week Vice President Mike Pence’s appearance at the March for Life was celebrated enthusiastically by pro-life activists.

The president seemed aware of that fact from the outset, greeting the crowd with shout-outs to all of his friends and cabinet members in the audience and grinning broadly as he declared: “I hope to be here seven more times with you.”

If Trump doesn’t make it back to the National Prayer Breakfast as much as he’d like, however, it seems his old job as host of The Apprentice may be waiting. Schwarzenegger even offered it up to him now, suggesting they should “switch jobs.”

“You take over TV, because you’re such an expert in ratings, and I take over your job — and then people can finally sleep comfortably again,” Schwarzenegger said.

 

 

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