President Trump — hours after tweeting about his hush-money payoff to a porn star — led a ceremony at the White House on Thursday celebrating the annual National Day of Prayer.
The commander-in-chief hailed his own efforts to protect religious freedom and signed an executive order to create “a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative” that would focus on helping faith-based and community organizations address poverty and issues of religious freedom.
“I will always protect religious liberty. We have been doing it. We have been doing it,” the president said from the Rose Garden.
“And my administration has spoken out against religious persecution around the world including the persecution of many, many Christians, what is going on is horrible, and we’re taking action. We are taking action.”
The president also took a thinly veiled shot at his predecessor, Barack Obama, and claimed that more people are saying “Merry Christmas” since he took office.
“One nation under God. So important. And we say it. A lot of people, you know, they don’t say it. But you know what? They’re starting to say it more, just like we’re starting to say ‘Merry Christmas’ when that day comes around,” he said.
“You notice a big difference between now and two or three years ago?” Trump added. “It was going in the other direction rapidly. Now it’s straight up.”
First lady Melania Trump was notably absent as the controversy over the president’s payment to Stormy Daniels again made headlines after Rudy Giuliani said Trump had reimbursed Trump lawyer Michael Cohen for the $130,00 payoff.
Giuliani, now part of the president’s legal team, contradicted Trump’s and Cohen’s earlier statements about the payment — that the president was in the dark about it and never reimbursed Cohen.
Attendees included Vice President Mike Pence — who a day earlier had raised eyebrows for hailing ex-Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio as a “tireless champion of … the rule of law” despite his being found in criminal contempt for ignoring a court order to stop profiling Latinos — his wife, Karen Pence, and other cabinet members.
Representatives from major religions also participated, including Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president of the National Day of Prayer.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the first lady’s absence. In 2017, she and Trump attended church services together to mark the day.
Earlier, the White House released the proclamation the president would sign.
“On this National Day of Prayer, we join together to offer gratitude for our many blessings and to acknowledge our need for divine wisdom, guidance, and protection,” the president’s proclamation read.
“Prayer, by which we affirm our dependence on God, has long been fundamental to our pursuit of freedom, peace, unity, and prosperity. Prayer sustains us and brings us comfort, hope, peace, and strength. Therefore, we must cherish our spiritual foundation and uphold our legacy of faith.”
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