SALT LAKE CITY — President Donald Trump took a shot at Sen. Mitt Romney in a White House speech Thursday for invoking his religious faith among the reasons that he voted to convict the president of abuse of power.
While praising another senator who supported him during the impeachment trial, the president veered off into a comment about the Utah Republican without mentioning his name.
“And then you have some that used religion as a crutch. They never used it before. An article written today — never heard him use it before but today, you know, it’s one of those things. But, you know, it’s a failed presidential candidate so things can happen when you fail so badly when you’re running for president,” Trump said.
Trump also took at dig a Romney during the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington right after a keynote address by Arthur Brooks, a Harvard professor and president of a conservative think tank. Brooks bemoaned a “crisis of contempt and polarization” in the nation and urged those gathered to ”love your enemies.”
“I don’t know if I agree with you,” Trump said as he took the microphone, and then he proceeded to demonstrate it, according to the Associated Press.
“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Trump said in an apparent reference to Romney, the only Republican who found the president guilty on one of the two articles of impeachment.
In his Senate floor speech before Wednesday’s vote, Romney described himself as “a profoundly religious person.”
The 72-year-old lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints took a long pause, appearing to gather his emotions before continuing his speech.
“I take an oath before God as enormously consequential,” he said. “I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.”
In his speech Thursday, Trump then went on to praise Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, noting that while Lee supported him throughout the impeachment trial, he wasn’t always on his side.
“A man who is brilliant and who actually was deceived to an extent, comes from a great state, Utah, where my poll numbers have gone through the roof and one of the senator’s poll numbers, but not this one, have gone down big. You saw that, Mike?” Trump said, acknowledging Lee in the audience.
“But Mike Lee is a brilliant guy. He’s difficult,” the president said, adding that whenever legislation passed 99-1, Lee is usually the holdout but always has a good reason for it.
“And say hello to the people of Utah and tell them I’m sorry about Mitt Romney. I’m sorry. OK?” Trump said to Lee, draw applause from the room.
“We can say that Mike Lee is by far the most popular senator from the state, but you’ve done a fantastic job, Mike, in many ways, in many ways,” the president said.
Though higher than the 45.5% of Utahns who voted for Trump in 2016, his poll numbers haven’t exactly gone through the roof nor is Lee as popular as the president claims.
A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll taken last month actually shows Lee with a lower approval rating than both Romney and Trump. According to the survey, 53% of Utahns approve of Trump’s job performance, with Romney at 52% and Lee at 48%. More than one-fifth weren’t sure how to rate Lee.
Trump, however, had the highest disapproval rating of 44%, including a third who strongly disapprove. Romney had 39% who disapprove of him, while Lee had 30%.
After his comments at the prayer breakfast about Romney, Trump also went after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., saying, “Nor do I like people who say ‘I pray for you’ when you know that is not so.”
The House speaker shook her head at various points during Trump’s remarks, but did not appear to interact with Trump personally, according to the Associated Press. Earlier she had offered a prayer for the poor and the persecuted.
At the White House later, Trump defended his prayer breakfast attacks on Pelosi, saying, “I had Nancy Pelosi sitting four seats away and I’m saying things a lot of people wouldn’t have said. I meant every word.”
Pelosi said afterward that Trump’s remarks were “so completely inappropriate, especially at a prayer breakfast.” She took particular issue with his swipe at Romney’s faith and said that yes, she actually does pray for the president.
In a news conference Thursday on Capitol Hill, Pelosi praised Romney, noting that for the first time in history, a senator voted against his own party’s president in an impeachment trial.
“God bless him for his courage,” she said.
Romney said Wednesday that he expected “abuse” from Trump over his vote.
The president also went after him on Twitter with a video showing Romney’s 2012 election loss and later tweeted, “Had failed presidential candidate @MittRomney devoted the same energy and anger to defeating Barack Obama as he sanctimoniously does me, he could have won the election. Read the Transcripts!”