President Donald Trump on Thursday aimed to shore up his support with religious conservatives in an address at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Trump delivered his remarks at the annual religious event in Washington, D.C., as a vast slate of his potential 2020 presidential opponents come out of the woodwork. At the same time, Capitol Hill has become increasingly focused on one of the most galvanizing social issues in religion and politics alike: abortion.
"All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God," Trump said to cheers and applause from the audience at the breakfast.
Supporters of abortion's legality, wary of the threat that an increasingly conservative Supreme Court could pose for the perennially controversial Roe v. Wade decision, have pushed for new state legislation expanding protections for the practice.
One of those bills in Virginia gained national notoriety among conservatives and Republicans, who are more likely than Democrats to oppose abortion, after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on a radio show defended the proposal, which would allow the procedures with the approval of one doctor, rather than the three that state law currently requires. Northam came under fire after claiming that an already-delivered newborn would be "resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother."
Northam's office later clarified that his comments referred only to a situation in which a woman with a "nonviable pregnancy or severe fetal abnormalities went into labor."
But Trump has seized upon the issue. "Democrats are becoming the Party of late term abortion, high taxes, Open Borders and Crime!" he tweeted last week.
At his State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump called upon Congress to pass legislation prohibiting so-called late-term abortions, which the practice's opponents call the termination of any pregnancy past the 21st week. Late-term abortions accounted for about 1 percent of total abortions in 2015, according to the latest data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother's womb," Trump said in his speech before a joint session of Congress. He specifically called out "the case of the governor of Virginia where he basically stated he would execute a baby after birth."
Religious events are generally friendly crowds for the president, who has been embraced by some Christian leaders standing astride the ostensibly separate worlds of religion and politics. One of his friends and most committed supporters, evangelical leader and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., regularly champions Trump's policies, and has vouched for the president as a "good, moral person" even amid allegations that he was involved in multiple hush money payments to women who claimed they had affairs with him.
"Evangelicals believe every human being is a sinner. We're all imperfect, we're all flawed, and we're redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ," Falwell told The Guardian in an October interview.
Thursday's breakfast wasn't a completely partisan gathering. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has quickly become Trump's chief adversary in the new Congress, was present in the audience. And in remarks preceding the president, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., touched on the theme of unity, an echo of Trump's State of the Union address delivered two days earlier.
"This breakfast is and always has been a moment of unity and healing to counteract the division, strife and difficulty of the day-to-day work here in Washington," Coons said.
Trump delivered his remarks as the specter of another government shutdown hangs over the nation's capitol.
Time is running out for a bipartisan group of lawmakers to hash out a deal to fund the federal government that Trump will approve. If no deal is reached by Feb. 15, about a quarter of the government will once again shut down — just three weeks after the longest shutdown in U.S. history was temporarily resolved.
Trump once said he would be "proud" to shut down the government in pursuit of securing the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — the central promise of his 2016 presidential campaign. He has entrenched himself in his position that any deal to fund the government must include billions of dollars toward a border wall, which his administration estimates will cover about 234 miles of wall construction along the nearly 2,000-mile-long border.
Democrats, led by Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, refuse to allocate any money for Trump's wall, though they have expressed willingness to support other immigration security measures.
Correction: The Democrats control the House in the new Congress. An earlier version misstated their status.