President Donald Trump on Saturday delivered a full-throated defense of his presidency at the Values Voter Summit, calling Democrats “crazy” over their impeachment inquiry, touting his recent withdrawal of troops from Syria and pledging to fight for religious liberty in America and around the world.
"These are bad bad people," Trump said of House Democrats, telling some 3,000 attendees at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., that “we’re going after” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House intel chair Adam Schiff, while raising the prospect of suing them, in a 79-minute address that hewed closely to his stump speech.
Pelosi “hates our country,” the president continued, before further lashing out against the House impeachment inquiry that followed revelations from a whistleblower alleging Trump sought the help of a foreign government to dig up dirt on a political rival.
"Look we've all seen it, we all seen what's going on. There was no compromise," Trump said of the phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. "Frankly, these people are crazy. They're crazy. I shouldn't say it because we're all the same but they are crazy."
"I never thought I’d see or hear that word with regard to me," Trump said of impeachment. "To me it’s an ugly word. … It means so much, it means horrible horrible crimes and things. I can’t even believe it."
The president also touched on topics close to the heart of the conservative Christian voters that make up a solid and largely unwavering share of his base, such as the contentious nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the moving of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, abortion and religious freedom — painting the Democratic Party as standing against everything they are for.
"They're coming after me because I'm fighting for you. That's a big part of it," Trump said. "They don't like you."
"As you know, just a few days ago a Democrat running for president proposed revoking the tax-exempt status of many churches and religious groups," Trump said of Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, who said that churches and other nonprofits should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage and also take discriminatory action against same sex-couples when they provide a public service.
Trump talked at length about his decision to move U.S. special operations teams away from the Syrian border — a key issue for evangelical voters — as Turkey launches an offensive against Kurdish forces, citing his stance against "never-ending wars" in the Middle East.
"The Kurds are tending to leave and that's good. Let them have their borders. But I don't think our soldiers should be there for the next 50 years guarding a border between Turkey and Syria when we can’t even guard our own borders at home," Trump said. "It's a long ways away. We killed ISIS, we defeated, we did our job, they have to go home."
"I made clear to Turkey, that if they do not meet their commitments, including the protections of religious minorities, and also watching over the ISIS prisoners that we captured, we will impose very strict, strong and severe economic sanctions," Trump said.
The president also revealed that he recently released $50 million in assistance for Syria to protect persecuted ethnic and religious minorities.
The money “will also go toward increased accountability, removal of explosive remnants of war, community security for stabilization assistance, documenting human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations, and support for survivors of gender-based violence and torture,” according to a White House statement sent after the president had finished speaking.
Trump was introduced by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins and Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was held in detention for two years in Turkey, and whose release Trump secured in October 2018 by lifting sanctions against top Turkish officials. The two prayed with Trump at the rostrum before Trump’s address.
Evangelical Christians have formed a solid base of support for Trump since he became the 2016 Republican nominee for president. In turn, Trump has advocated fighting against a secular culture and has frequently appeared at conferences hosted by conservative Christian groups.
The event hosted by the conservative FRC marks the fourth time the president has appeared at the Values Voter Summit, and his second time as president following his 2017 address, which was the first by a sitting president. Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the summit last year.
Trump was initially slated to speak Saturday morning, but instead spoke at the gala dinner.
Other featured speakers at the three-day summit included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Rep. Mark Meadows, and former deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka.
CLARIFICATION: Beto O’Rourke’s position on tax exemptions for churches has been clarified.