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At First National Prayer Breakfast, Trump Slams 'Apprentice,' Says 'We Have to Be Tough' on World

Trump also pledged, again, to repeal the Johnson Amendment — an IRS rule barring pastors from endorsing candidates from the pulpit.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., pause during the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2, 2017, in Washington.Evan Vucci / AP

President Donald Trump flexed America's global dominance Thursday during his first National Prayer Breakfast speech, telling faith leaders that "the world is in trouble, but we're going to straighten it out."

"When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it," Trump said, referring to reports he became testy with Australia's prime minister over an Obama administration deal for the U.S. to accept its refugees.

"We have to be tough," he added. "We’re being taken advantage by every nation in the world, virtually. It’s not going to happen anymore."

The president on Thursday toggled between tough talk and making promises to promote religious liberty — even calling to overturn a law placing political limits on churches. He also vowed to take resolute action against terror groups who "cut off people's heads."

"It must be stopped, and it will be stopped. It might not be pretty for a little while," Trump said at the high-profile Washington, D.C., event that has been attended by every American president since it began in 1953.

The annual breakfast usually offers an opportunity for a pause in the day's highly charged rhetoric — which Thursday morning already included Trump tweeting about Iran after his administration put the nation "on notice" for its ballistic missiles testing.

But Trump didn't steer clear from topics such as his immigration policy and even took a dig at the new "Celebrity Apprentice" host Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Other dignitaries at the breakfast included King Abdullah of Jordan, whom Trump spoke with before the ceremony began, and newly sworn-in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Trump's speech took a starker tone than that of former President Barack Obama, who said during the prayer breakfast last year that faith can be a cure for playing on people's fears.

Trump on Thursday didn't specify how he'll act on provisions sought by religious conservatives, who helped propel him into the White House. However, he did once again pledge to repeal the Johnson Amendment — an IRS rule barring pastors from endorsing candidates from the pulpit.

"I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution," Trump said.

He had made a similar assurance as a candidate, but has not detailed how he plans to scrap the rule or how quickly he will proceed in doing so. Such a move would require congressional approval.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that the president would leave intact a 2014 executive order that protects workers for federal contractors from anti-LGBTQ discrimination, saying in a statement that Trump "continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election."

But human rights groups worry that Trump could sign executive orders that could erode advancements made under Obama and previous administrations on issues from same-sex marriage to abortion.

Trump's pick for the vacant Supreme Court seat, Neil Gorsuch, a favorite of conservatives, is also giving them concern.

Related: Trump’s Immigration Restrictions Could Be LGBTQ ‘Death Sentence’

Trump used his National Prayer Breakfast speech to address another issue: the ratings for "The Celebrity Apprentice" under Schwarzenegger.

"I want to pray for Arnold's ratings," Trump, who previously hosted the reality competition show, said to some laughter.

Trump earlier this month mocked the show with the former California governor at the helm and said he was the true "ratings machine" behind the program's early popularity.

Schwarzenegger responded Thursday on Twitter that he and Trump should switch roles.

"You take over TV, cause you’re such an expert in ratings, and I take over your job," he said, "and then people can finally sleep comfortably again."

Mark Burnett, the creator and still executive producer of "The Apprentice" — which airs on NBC, owned by the parent company of NBC News — was also on hand at the breakfast and spoke briefly.

But it was Barry Black, the chaplain of the U.S. Senate, who addressed attendees earlier and won Trump’s biggest praise for his spirited sermon.

"I don't know if you're Democrat or Republican," the president told Black in off-the-cuff remarks, "but I'm appointing you for another year. The hell with it."