On Monday, Donald Trump left the White House and went to St. John’s Episcopal Church, across the street. The church had been damaged during riots the night before. Trump walked across to the church with some of his staff, stood in front of the building, and was photographed. Kellyanne Conway, who advises the president, spoke to reporters Tuesday and said it was insulting to call the visit a “photo-op.”
The Episcopal News Service says that a fire was set in the basement of the church during riots that followed peaceful protests, but was quickly put out and the damage was minor — one room was destroyed, and some other areas were damaged by smoke and water, but “…nobody was hurt and none of the church’s irreplaceable historical items were damaged.”
However, Trump took the opportunity on Monday to walk over to the church. The forceful removal of peaceful protestors, using tear gas and physical violence, has been criticized widely. ABC News is now reporting that Attorney General Bill Barr personally ordered the area cleared of demonstrators. The White House isn’t saying whether he or the president approved the tactics.
Once there, Trump proceeded to hold up a Bible. He answered a reporter who called out, “Is that your Bible?” The president responded, “It’s a Bible.” He held the Bible in a few positions, then moved to a slightly different location, in front of the church steps, instead of by the sign where he’d previously been. He held the Bible some more. He invited members of his administration to come stand with him while additional photos were taken. According to Mediaite, he actually shushed a reporter who asked if he was going to make any statement.
Asked about this by reporters on Tuesday, Kellyanne Conway said that to even call it a photo-op is wrong and questions the president’s faith. See the clip from The Hill below.
Kellyanne Conway on Trump's church visit: "Is it a 'photo-op' because a photo was taken while the President of the United States was in front of a church?" pic.twitter.com/ILdenIZ6yz
— The Hill (@thehill) June 2, 2020
I think the words photo-op itself call into question — you’re looking at somebody’s heart and wondering and second-guessing why they would go over there. Is it a photo-op because a photo was taken while the President of the United States was in front of a church where we went on inauguration day, where every president has gone for more than two centuries? I think that itself is a mischaracterization. I know about it being the Sesame Street Grover word of the day, but that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make it true.
Kellyanne was asked about earlier this year, when Trump denied that Nancy Pelosi prays for him, saying, that if she prays, she “prays for the opposite,” and that he doubts she prays at all. Conway insisted this was different, maintaining that this wasn’t an act of questioning Pelosi’s faith, only her feelings about him.
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Steph Bazzle reports on social issues and religion for Hill Reporter. She focuses on stories that speak to everyone's right to practice what they believe in and receive the support of their communities and government officials. You can reach her at Steph@HillReporter.com