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Trump launches evangelical coalition after strike on Iranian military leader

President Trump marked the launch of his "Evangelicals for Trump" coalition at El Rey Jesus Church in Miami Friday, the day after he ordered a deadly strike on Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds military force and one of the most powerful figures in the Islamic Republic. 

"Soleimani has been killed and his bloody rampage is now forever gone," the president said during his speech at the church, adding Soleimani had been plotting attacks but they've been "stopped for good."

"He was planning a very major attack, and we got him," the president told a supportive audience. 

Earlier in the afternoon, Mr. Trump addressed reporters, insisting, "We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war."

Evangelicals, particularly white evangelicals, were a critical voting bloc in propelling the thrice-married president who says he's never asked God for forgiveness to the White House in 2016. And the president said he thinks he can improve upon that performance among evangelicals in 2020. 

"I really do believe we have God on our side. I believe that, I believe that," the president said from the stage. 

The president's speech comes as the commander-in-chief is ensuring his grip on the evangelical vote, after a widely circulated Christianity Today editorial denounced him in December. The day after that editorial ran, the Trump campaign announced the launch of the Evangelicals for Trump coalition in Miami. 

APTOPIX Trump
Wanda Albritton, of Miami Springs, Fla., raises her ams in prayer during a rally for evangelical supporters at the King Jesus International Ministry church, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, in Miami. Lynne Sladky / AP

The president appeared to take the critique from one of his strongest voting blocs personally, mocking the magazine, which was founded by Billy Graham, and retweeting supporters of his who also blasted the publication. Mark Galli, the editor in chief whose name was attached to the editorial, is retiring.

At the coalition launch, Mr. Trump recognized a number of the evangelical leaders who were at the event supporting him, including Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham. The president said that Franklin Graham had a "special family" and thanked him for having "fought very hard for us" over the two weeks since the editorial was published. 

On Friday, the president repeated his line that he has been a better president for people of faith than anyone else. He also issued his usual warning that anyone on the "radical left" who takes the White House will eliminate any policy gains for religious people. 

"For America to thrive in the 21st century, we must renew faith and family as the center of American life," the president told the crowd.

The president also touted his work in weakening the Johnson Amendment, which has long restricted tax-exempt churches from endorsing or denouncing political candidates. 

The president addressed the recent attack on Jews in New York, condemning anti-Semitism and insisting his administration will continue to stand up for Israel. 

Mr. Trump has been largely holed up at his Mar-a-Lago resort since the Friday before Christmas, making frequent golf outings. While in Florida, the president has been tweeting and retweeting tweets about the impeachment process, which, at this point, is stalled. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has yet to send the articles of impeachment passed by the House to the Senate. 

"The Witch Hunt is sputtering badly, but still going on (Ukraine Hoax!)," the president tweeted Thursday morning. "If this...had happened to a Presidential candidate, or President, who was a Democrat, everybody involved would long ago be in jail for treason (and more), and it would be considered the CRIME OF THE CENTURY, far bigger and more sinister than Watergate!"

Fundraising for the Trump campaign remained strong through the impeachment process. The campaign raised $46 million in the fourth quarter of 2019. 

Grace Segers contributed to this report.

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