President Donald Trump on Friday pledged to an adoring crowd of evangelicals his commitment to religious liberty, as he declared that his administration is “substantially ahead of schedule” in delivering on campaign promises.
Speaking at the Values Voter Summit, Trump boasted about “tremendous strides” against ISIS and his plan to decertify the Iran nuclear deal, while saying he hoped to give Americans a Christmas gift of tax reform and to deliver on scrapping Obamacare, after multiple failed repeal efforts in Congress.
“We’re taking a little different route than we had hoped because getting Congress — they’ve forgotten what their pledges were,” Trump said, referring to multiple plans he’s rolled out in the past 24 hours to undermine the health care law. “So we’re going a little different route, but you know what, in the end it will be just as effective and maybe it will even be better.”
Trump, who received standing ovations throughout his speech, promised to restore “moral clarity” to the United States’ view of the world, as he touted his success in office.
“In the last 10 months we have followed through on one promise after another,” Trump said. “I didn’t have a schedule, [but] if I did have a schedule, I would say we are substantially ahead of schedule.”
For Trump, Friday marks his third appearance at the Values Voter Summit and the first from a sitting president. He previously spoke at the event in 2016 during the general election campaign as the Republican presidential nominee and in 2015, during the Republican primary race.
“One of the promises I made you was that I would come back,” he said during his remarks. “See? And I don’t even need your vote this year, that’s even nicer.”
Tony Perkins, the evangelical president of the Family Research Council, introduced Trump at the summit and noted “we now have a president who reveres the Constitution and honors the laws of our land.”
Perkins, in a statement, particularly hailed the Trump administration’s move last week to roll back an Obama-era directive on birth control, allowing virtually any employer to claim a religious or moral objection to the Obamacare mandate to provide FDA-approved contraception at no cost. Perkins called the action a demonstration of Trump’s commitment “to undoing the anti-faith policies of the previous administration and restoring true religious freedom.”
During his speech, Trump extolled a separate order he signed on Thursday that would encourage cheap, loosely regulated health insurance plans and his move to scrap Obamacare subsidy payments to insurers — two actions that threaten to unravel the health care law.
“You saw what we did yesterday with respect to health care, it is step by step by step,” Trump said. “And that was a big step yesterday, another big step was taken the day before yesterday, and one by one it is going to come down and we’re going to have great health care in our country.”
He also promised to deliver on tax reform, another major legislative goal that faces an uphill climb in Congress.
“And as a Christmas gift to all of our hard-working families, we hope Congress will pass massive tax cuts for the American people,” he said. “That includes increasing the child tax credit and expanding it to eliminate the marriage penalty because we know that the American family is the true bedrock of American life.”
During his 31-minute speech, the president promoted his rollback of Obama-era regulations — “By the way, we are cutting regulations at a clip that nobody has ever seen before. Nobody,” he said.
Returning to well-worn rhetoric on the “all-time historic high” of the stock market and a “17-year low” in unemployment, the president also said his administration has done more against ISIS in nine months than the Obama administration accomplished in years and referenced Iran and North Korea.
“ISIS is now being dealt one defeat after another,” Trump said. “We’re confronting rogue regimes from Iran to North Korea, and we are challenging the communist dictatorship of Cuba and socialist oppression of Venezuela, and we will not lift the sanctions on these repressive regimes until they restore political and religious freedom for their people.”
But his remarks did not come without backlash from advocacy groups, including some that see the president’s appearance as another anti-LGBT step from an administration that does not support LGBT rights.
“Though it is reprehensible that a sitting President would headline this gathering of hate and fearmongering, it is no longer surprising, as President Trump continues to lead a culture war against LGBTQ Americans and other marginalized groups at every turn,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD in a statement.
But in his own statement from earlier this week, Family Research Council’s Perkins said values voters have waited eight years for a leader like Trump, “who puts America’s mission first and respects the values that made America into a great nation.”
Trump spoke to that notion directly on Friday.
“I pledged that in a Trump administration our nation’s religious heritage would be cherished, protected and defended like you have never seen before,” Trump said. “[And] that’s what’s happening.”
“How times have changed,” Trump added. “You know? Now they’re changing back again.”