WASHINGTON (KT) – President Donald Trump made history on Friday in becoming the first sitting president to personally attend the March for Life, calling it a "profound honor" to do so.
“Every life brings love into this world. Every child brings joy to a family. Every person is worth protecting," Trump said, prompting loud cheers from the many thousands attending the march.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed Kentuckians who made the trek to the annual March for Life on Friday, calling it “one of the most important event events in Washington D.C,” and he also thanked President Donald Trump for making history, saying the decision “underscores his firm commitment to this fundamental issue.”
The Senate leader also personally applauded Margie Montgomery and Kentucky Right to Life. “Your peaceful advocacy and moral courage are inspiring.”
McConnell said because of the impeachment trial, the Senate cannot vote on pro-life legislation Friday to “show our solidarity with you. But sadly, we know what the fate of such legislation would likely be. Even our most modest efforts to bring U.S. policy closer to the international mainstream have failed to overcome filibusters from Senate Democrats.”
Past presidents who opposed abortion, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, sent remarks for others to deliver, spoke via telephone hookup or invited organizers to visit the White House, but never appeared.
During his first three years in office, Trump has embraced socially conservative policies, particularly on the issue of abortion. He's appointing judges who oppose abortion, cutting taxpayer funding for abortion services and painting Democrats who support abortion rights as extreme in their views.
And on Friday, his administration took another step, threatening California with the potential loss of federal health care funding over the state's requirement that insurance plans cover abortions.
"President Trump has done more for the pro-life community than any other president, so it is fitting that he would be the first president in history to attend the March for Life on the National Mall," said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
This is not the first time Trump has given serious consideration to an appearance. Last year, he wanted to go and came close to attending, according to a person familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning. But the trip never came together because of concerns about security so Trump joined the event via video satellite from the White House Rose Garden instead.
Trump's thinking on the matter was simple: If he supported the cause, "why wouldn't he show up to their big event?" said Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union and a close ally of the White House. He said the appearance would be deeply significant for those participating.
"I've had people be moved to tears over the fact that he's going," said Schlapp. "It's a big deal."
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, celebrated the news of Trump’s in-person speech, calling it a very important step forward for the cause.
“President Trump has governed as the most pro-life president in history. His presence at the March for Life, the world’s largest pro-life event, signals a watershed moment for the Pro-life Movement,” said Dannenfelser in a statement Wednesday.
March attendees began streaming onto the mall early Friday, holding signs with slogans including, "Make unborn babies great again" and I VOTE PRO-LIFE FIRST." In some ways, it had the feel of a Trump rally, with vendors selling pro-Trump buttons and hats.
"I am very impressed with him. It takes a lot of guts to do something that nobody else has done before," said Janet Peterson, 27, who lives in Anderson, South Carolina, of Trump's decision to attend, which she credited to his roots.
"Trump is from New York," Peterson said. "If you tell them, 'This isn't the status quo' or 'We don't do it this way,' they're more likely to give you a double finger and do it. And that's what we see Trump as."
During his video address last year, Trump sent a clear message to the thousands of people braving the cold on the National Mall. "As president, I will always defend the first right in our Declaration of Independence, the right to life," he said.
The first March for Life took place on the west steps of the Capitol in January 1974, the year after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that established a woman's legal right to abortion.