President Trump declared himself “totally in favor of the death penalty for heinous crimes” in one breath and described himself as “pro-life” in the next during an interview that aired on the Catholic television station EWTN on Monday night. The interview comes as the president’s re-election campaign courts Catholic and other Christian voters ahead of the November election and in the wake of a recent poll that suggested a drop in support for the president among white Catholics, a demographic he won in 2016.
The president was asked about claims that his likely opponent in November’s election, former Vice President Joe Biden, is more “pro-life” than Mr. Trump, given Mr. Biden’s opposition to the death penalty and embrace of efforts to confront climate change. Mr. Trump responded by talking about appointments to federal courts.
“The Democrats? Look, who’s he putting on the court? They want to put people on the court. You have no chance. So, I’m pro-life. The Democrats aren’t. Nobody can say that Biden is. Look at his stance over the years,” Mr. Trump said, without clarifying which court or which people he was referring to.
The roughly 10-minute interview was conducted by Raymond Arroyo, host of a weekly news show on EWTN and a regular contributor to Fox News. Few questions dealt directly with Catholicism, but Mr. Arroyo did ask the president about a letter written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal ambassador to the United States.
The EWTN interview comes as the president’s re-election campaign courts Catholic and other Christian voters ahead of the November election and in the wake of a recent poll that suggested a drop in support for the president among white Catholics.
In that letter, which Mr. Trump shared on his Twitter account, the archbishop expressed his belief in a number of conspiracy theories, including the existence of a “deep state” opposing Mr. Trump from within the U.S. federal government and a “deep church” comprised of “children of darkness”; a belief that the Covid-19 pandemic response represents “a colossal operation of social engineering”; and the notion that recent anti-racism protests in the United States evoke “the Masonic ideals of those who want to dominate the world by driving God out of the courts, out of schools, out of families, and perhaps even out of churches.”
The president was asked how he reacted to the letter and if he agreed with the archbishop’s views. Mr. Trump called Archbishop Viganò “a great gentleman” and praised the letter without directly addressing any of its claims.
“It was a tremendous letter of support from the Catholic Church. He’s highly respected, as you know. It was beautiful. It was really three pages long. And it was a beautiful letter. And I appreciated it. Yeah, but he’s right in what he says,” the president said.
Asked about the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down Mr. Trump’s effort to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, the president repeated his claim that he would protect so-called Dreamers as part of a broader immigration reform deal. But he said he will try again to end the program.
“What we want to do is win the case and then work it out. We will be able to work it out,” he said. Referring to Dreamers, he added, “They’re not going to have anything to worry about.”
The president also said he would issue an executive order aimed at protecting public statues that have been targeted by protesters in recent weeks, including one depicting the 18th-century Franciscan missionary St. Junipero Serra. Protesters in Los Angeles and San Francisco last week tore down statues depicting the saint who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, leading to a rebuke from Catholic leaders who reject claims that the missionary mistreated Native Americans.
Mr. Arroyo asked Mr. Trump about the crowd size at his Tulsa rally on Saturday, which was much smaller than what the president’s campaign had projected. “They’re nipping at you over attendance at this Tulsa rally. What really happened there, in your opinion?” Mr. Arroyo asked.
Mr. Trump said, “We had a good crowd. I’ll tell you that right now,” to which Mr. Arroyo responded, “Oh yeah, you did.”
A question about the coronavirus pandemic, which is worsening in about half of U.S. states, focused on the economy. Mr. Arroyo asked, “How do you deal with these states that are refusing to open up, Mr. President? Is there anything you can do? Refuse them funding? Withhold funding unless they open up?”
The president said, “A lot of it is a thing for Nov. 3 because the longer they hold out, they think it hurts the economy, and if it hurts the economy that’s good for them.”
Toward the end of the interview, Mr. Arroyo praised the president’s performance at the Tulsa rally, saying, “Well, I don’t know any politician or stand-up comedian who holds forth for two hours with the energy and verve that you brought, including the leather shoe routine, which was classic.” This was a reference to Mr. Trump’s claim that his apparent difficulty walking down a ramp earlier this month was due to slippery leather soles on his shoes.