WASHINGTON (RNS)—President Trump touted his support from evangelical Christians and his friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview with Pat Robertson on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s The 700 Club.
The president also continued to strike at his Democratic opponent in last year’s presidential campaign, insisting Putin would have preferred a Hillary Clinton presidency.
“There are many things that I do that are the exact opposite of what he (Putin) would want,” Trump told Robertson, the 87-year-old host of The 700 Club.
“I keep hearing about that he would have rather had Trump. I think probably not, because when I want a strong military, you know, she (Clinton) wouldn’t have spent the money on military. When I want a strong military, when I want tremendous energy, we’re opening up coal, we’re opening up natural gas, we’re opening up fracking, all the things that he would hate, but nobody ever mentions that.”
Still, the president said, he and Putin “get along very well, and I think that’s a good thing. That’s not a bad thing.”
“People said, ‘Oh, they shouldn’t get along.’ Well, who are the people that are saying that? I think we get along very, very well. We are a tremendously powerful nuclear power, and so are they. It doesn’t make sense not to have some kind of a relationship.”
Trump sat for the interview with Robertson, himself a former Republican presidential candidate, July 12 at the White House. That was two days after the president gathered evangelical Christian leaders around him to pray in the Oval Office. The leaders were in Washington, D.C., to attend a daylong meeting organized by the White House Office of Public Liaison.
No questions about Russia investigation
The interview also comes as new evidence of possible collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 election was released, including a series of emails by the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
Robertson did not ask the president about the Russia investigation, although he seemed to reference it afterward, saying, “I dealt with so many issues in that interview, and we didn’t once talk about all that garbage because the American people don’t care about it.”
The conversation between Trump and Robertson aired in its entirety on the July 13 episode of The 700 Club on CBN, a channel Trump has turned a spotlight on as president that, like Fox News, is viewed as friendly to him.
“As long as my people understand. That’s why I do interviews with you. You have a tremendous audience. You have people that I love—evangelicals—and sometimes you say ‘the evangelical Christians,’” Trump told Robertson.
The president previously had given CBN News his third one-on-one interview in office, and Robertson, who founded the network in 1961, has been a vocal supporter of Trump.
Support from evangelicals noted
The host pointed to Trump’s support from evangelical Christians, noting many had voted for him and “thousands and thousands” were praying for him.
In return, the president said, “We’ve really helped, because I’ve gotten rid of the Johnson Amendment.”
“Now they’re going to be able to speak, and that’s a great thing for Christianity, believe me—a great, great thing—and it’s a great thing for religion,” he said.
Under the Johnson Amendment, churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations can lose their nonprofit status for endorsing political candidates or participating in political campaigns. It has been enforced only a handful of times, and Trump noted during the interview he first learned who Robert Jeffress was because the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas was “always speaking so well of me” on TV.
A presidential executive order issued May 4 advises the IRS not to enforce the Johnson Amendment. To make it permanent, Trump added during the interview, Congress would have to repeal the amendment.
Robertson also asked the president about two things he said were important to Americans—cutting taxes, as well as repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, referring to the latter as “iniquitous.”
Asked what would happen if efforts to get rid of the ACA, popularly known as “Obamacare,” fail, Trump answered he “will be very angry about it.”