Live

Watch CBSN Live

Trump jokes about penalizing pastors who oppose him at faith conference — live updates

CBSN

President Trump, speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition 2019 Road to Majority Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., Wednesday before heading off to Japan for the G20, touted the ways his administration is pushing conservative policies and protecting religious Americans. 

Mr. Trump claimed that the "shameful attempt to oppress religious believers ended the day I took the oath of office." 

"We're saying Merry Christmas again," the president said, claiming people were taking down signs before he came into office, but now people are using the phrase again. 

Mr. Trump recalled how his administration has chosen not to enforce the Johnson Amendment, a law prohibiting churches and pastors from advocating for political candidates or risk their tax-exempt status. The president said that will remain the case "unless they speak against me, in which case I'll bring it back," adding that he's "only kidding." The president has not undone the law, like he sometimes claims he has, but rather told the Treasury Department it can enforce at its own discretion — leaving the possibility that the Trump administration could only penalize churches that oppose the president. 

"Our great clergy is now able to speak without fear of retribution, and I'm very proud of that. I said I was going to do that, I'm very proud of it. They can speak -- unless they speak against me, in which case we'll bring it back," the president said to laughter. "We'll bring back that Johnson amendment so fast."

"I'm only kidding, I'm only kidding, they're gonna take it seriously," the president added, motioning to the press. "They're gonna go out -- 'We have breaking news.' They're gonna say 'see I told you, he wants to be a dictator, I told you that!'" 

The address comes the day after news broke that former special counsel Robert Mueller will be testifying publicly before the House Intelligence Committee and House Oversight Committee next month. 

"Well, my reaction is it never ends," Mr. Trump said on Fox Business' "Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, before launching into his frustrations with the Russia investigation. 

Mr. Trump has catered to conservative religious groups, with evangelical voters being some of his strongest supporters. The coalition he's talking to aims to instill Christian values in government.