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Trump strikes a bitterly vindictive tone during National Prayer Breakfast speech

He showed up waving around a newspaper that read “ACQUITTED” — and things didn’t get more prayerful from there.

Trump arrived at the National Prayer Breakfast waving around newspapers.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday in Washington, DC — an annual tradition for presidents — made clear he blames Democrats and even Republican Mitt Romney for the impeachment process that ended with him being acquitted by Republican senators the day before.

Trump, who waved around a newspaper with the headline “ACQUITTED” when he arrived at the event, spoke immediately after Washington Post columnist Arthur Brooks. The contrast between Trump and Brooks was stark: Brooks addressed traditional Christian themes during his remarks, urging attendees to “love your enemies” and transcend “contempt.” Trump, however, began his speech by saying, “Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you.”

“As everybody knows, my family, our great country, and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people,” Trump lamented. “They have done everything possible to destroy us, and by so doing, very badly hurt our nation.”

The president then took thinly veiled shots at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who offered a prayer at the event before his speech, and Romney, who on Wednesday was the only Republican senator to vote for Trump’s removal from office.

“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Trump said, apparently alluding to Romney’s comments about how his faith influenced his decision to vote for Trump’s removal.

“Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so,” Trump continued, in reference to Pelosi’s comments about how she prayed for the president throughout the impeachment process.

He then pivoted back to his typical stump speech, focusing on the stock market and bragging about his accomplishments rather than on spirituality.

But before stepping away from the lectern, Trump came back to impeachment one more time, saying that “when they impeach you for nothing [and] then you’re supposed to like them, it’s not easy, folks. I do my best.”

If you think Trump’s comments were a bit off-key for a prayer event, you’re not alone. Historian Kevin Kruse tweeted that “I’ve studied the National Prayer Breakfast a good bit, and I can’t say how bizarre it is for a president to use the moment — traditionally one devoted to bipartisanship and unity — to strike such a petty, vindictive tone at the event.”

Then again, this is very on-brand for Trump. As I detailed on Wednesday, Trump’s initial response to the acquittal was to post authoritarian memes and make a mockery of the entire process — thus undermining the talking points used by numerous Republican senators who expressed hope in the days leading up to Wednesday’s vote that Trump would be chastened by impeachment.

Later Thursday, Trump is scheduled to address the nation on the topic of the just-completed impeachment trial. Press secretary Stephanie Grisham’s comments to Fox News previewed that the vindictive tone he struck at the prayer breakfast will likely carry over into his speech.

“I think he’s gonna also talk about how just horribly he was treated and that maybe people should pay for that,” she said.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.