President Trump questions Sen. Mitt Romney’s faith in criticizing his vote to convict him of abuse of power

(Evan Vucci | AP Photo) President Donald Trump holds up a newspaper with a headline that reads "Trump acquitted" as he speaks in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Washington.

Washington • President Donald Trump, claiming vindication from the impeachment trial and ready to settle scores, questioned Sen. Mitt Romney’s faith Thursday as he derided him as a “failed presidential candidate” who is sore he never won the White House.

Trump, in a rambling celebratory speech in which he thanked supporters for having his back during the monthslong impeachment proceedings, was dismissive of Romney, arguing the Utah Republican invoked his religion as “a crutch” in explaining his vote to oust the president over abuse of power.

Romney, Trump said, “never used [religion] before. An article written today: 'Never heard him use it before.' But today, you know, it’s one of those things.”

It was unclear what report Trump was referencing, though the hosts of Fox News’ “Fox & Friends,” a show Trump is fond of watching, had also derided Romney’s comments on his faith driving his decision earlier Thursday.

Host Brian Kilmeade said on the show, “Don't bring religion into this.”

"For him to bring religion in — it has nothing to do with religion,” Kilmeade added. “'My faith makes me do this'” — are you kidding. What about your faith and this case meld together? That is unbelievable for him to bring religion into this.”

Romney, in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune before announcing his guilty vote on the first article of abuse of power against the president, said he took his role as a juror seriously because he “swore an oath before God to apply impartial justice.”

“And, as you know, I'm a very religious person,” Romney said. “I take that very seriously.”

Romney is a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who has talked about his faith extensively. That includes a speech he gave in 2007 when running for president the first time around explaining how his religion influences who he is as a person but would not dictate his acts as a government leader.

Romney might be one of the world’s best-known Latter-day Saints, having led the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City before his two runs for the White House and making history in 2012 as the first member of his faith to be the presidential nominee of a major party.

Trump, in remarks fawning over House members and senators who opposed his impeachment, praised Utah’s other senator, Mike Lee, a “man who is brilliant.”

“He’s incredible,” Trump said of Lee, another Latter-day Saint with a noteworthy LDS pedigree, who was at the White House event. “And right at the beginning, he knew we were right — Mike — and I appreciate it very much. You’re just fantastic. And say hello to the people of Utah and tell them, ‘I’m sorry about Mitt Romney.’ I’m sorry.”

Trump insisted that his poll numbers in Utah have “gone through the roof” and that Romney’s approval rating went down.

Utahns are giving Trump higher marks than before — 57% in a recent Salt Lake Tribune/Suffolk University poll — compared with surveys showing the president with approval of about half the voters in the state, though that’s still lower than most Republican presidents in modern times have found themselves in deep red Utah.

Lee, meanwhile, actually polls lower than Romney in Utah, according to recent surveys. Morning Consult found Romney with a 48% approval rating in the state in the last quarter of 2019 and Lee with 46% approval. Romney did see a drop in support among Republicans late last year.

Earlier Thursday, at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump took out after Romney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the keynote speaker, conservative author Arthur Brooks, encouraged the audience to love their enemies.

“I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” Trump said in a veiled hit on Romney. “Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so.”

Pelosi, who is Catholic, previously had stated that she didn’t hate the president when asked at a news conference and said instead she prays for him.

Trump’s remarks follow withering criticism of Romney from Trump supporters and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who called Romney a “pussy” and suggested he be expelled from the Republican Party.

Romney on Wednesday said he may be ill-prepared for the repercussions of his guilty vote — he was the only senator to break with his party on the vote — but that he knew the “consequence will be enormous.”

“The consequence of violating my conscience and my oath of office to God," he said, “would be even greater.”

Romney’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s remarks. The senator had by Thursday returned to Utah, where he met privately with Republican lawmakers in the state Capitol to explain his vote.

One legislator announced he was drafting a censure resolution against Romney, while legislative leaders said they would sponsor a less confrontative resolution in support of the president.

Meanwhile, a new poll by YouGov, an opinion research firm, found that overall, 59% of Americans said Romney should not be cast off from the GOP but 58% percent of Republican respondents said he should be expelled.

That poll, conducted Thursday morning, surveyed more than 6,000 U.S. adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.