WASHINGTON - President Trump told a gathering of religious conservative activists in Washington on Thursday that they "picked a winner" in helping elect a president who will defend their religious liberty.
But speaking as former FBI director James Comey was wrapping up his public testimony on Capitol Hill, Trump gave only a vague hint of the controversy that overshadowed his remarks.
"We're under siege. You understand that," Trump told the annual conference of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an advocacy group founded by religious right leader Ralph Reed. "The entrenched interests and failed, bitter voices in Washington will do everything in their power to try to stop us in this just, righteous cause."
Trump's address to 1,500 conservative activists largely combined his standard stump speech — jobs, tax cuts, trade, immigration and withdrawing from the Paris climate accord — with a pledge that he would "battle for every American of faith who has lost their rights and lost their freedom."
"As long as I'm president, no one is going to stop you from following your faith or preaching what is in your heart," he said.
Trump recited a litany of fulfilled campaign promises to religious conservatives: the reinstatement of the Mexico City policy, which prevents U.S. taxpayer money from going to global groups that promote abortion; an executive order intended to curb enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, a law prohibiting churches from electioneering; and an exemption to the Affordable Care Act to allow the Little Sisters of the Poor to opt out of the Obama administration's contraception mandate.
"They are tough. Don't want to mess with the Little Sisters, right?" Trump said.
But Trump avoided any direct reference to Comey's highly anticipated testimony about Trump's unusual efforts to influence the FBI director as the agency conducted an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Instead, that statement was expected to come from Trump's lawyers.
After the Faith and Freedom address, Trump was scheduled to meet with governors and mayors to talk about his transportation and infrastructure agenda.
© 2018 USATODAY.COM