Fighting For Faith
As you know, in May President Trump appointed me to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. I am pleased to report that the Commission has made securing Pastor Andrew Brunson's freedom a top priority, and we took a big step in that direction yesterday.
Pastor Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years, was falsely accused of espionage and terrorism by the Turkish government. The charges are nothing more than a cynical power play by Turkey's Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is demanding we surrender Fethullah Gulen, an opponent of the Erdogan regime who lives in Pennsylvania.
One of my fellow commissioners, Kristina Arriaga, was authorized by the Commission to travel to Turkey to be in the courtroom at Pastor Brunson's hearing last week. After the court again refused to release him, we used a myriad of behind-the-scenes channels to ratchet up the pressure. In addition, President Trump weighed in by publicly shaming Erdogan.
Thankfully, Pastor Brunson is no longer in prison. But he remains under house arrest, and is prohibited from leaving Turkey.
Yesterday, Pastor Brunson's daughter, Jacqueline Funari, addressed the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. She told delegates, "I cannot tell you how proud I am of my father, and what an example of Christ's love he continues to be to the world as he is wrongly imprisoned for his faith."
I was at the State Department today, along with my fellow commissioners, participating in the Ministerial. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed delegates from scores of nations. I was pleased that Secretary Pompeo announced that the Trump Administration would host another Ministerial on Religious Freedom next year.
Vice President Pence noted that most of the world's population lives in nations where religious freedom is threatened. He singled out the government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, the communist regime of China, Kim Jong Un's North Korea, Putin's Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Pence observed that threats to religious freedom do not always come from oppressive governments, but can also arise from cultural intolerance within free nations. He cited the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
And the vice president forcefully condemned the barbarism of ISIS and its genocide against Christians and other religious minorities.
In addition, the vice president vowed that he and President Trump would continue to fight for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson until he is returned to the U.S. He spoke directly to President Erdogan, saying, "Release Pastor Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences" of significant sanctions.
This afternoon, President Trump tweeted this:
"The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!"
My friends, this administration is moving more aggressively to defend religious liberty around the world than any previous administration. For that, President Trump and Vice President Pence deserve our prayers and our appreciation.
Trump Wins Again
President Trump's tough stance and his willingness to challenge to conventional wisdom on trade has surprised and frustrated many pundits and politicians in both parties. At a White House event this week showcasing products made in America, Trump declared:
"Our leaders in Washington did nothing, they did nothing. They let our factories leave, they let our people lose their jobs. That's not free trade, that's fool's trade, that's stupid trade and we don't do that kind of trade anymore."
Those remarks set the stage for his meeting yesterday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Trump's tariffs got Europe's attention and Juncker was looking to deal. So the president threw down the gauntlet. Just hours before they met, he tweeted:
"I have an idea for them. Both the U.S. and the E.U. drop all Tariffs, Barriers and Subsidies! That would finally be called Free Market and Fair Trade! Hope they do it, we are ready - but they won't."
Well, it's not yet a done deal, but it seems like Trump and Juncker made significant progress.
When the two leaders emerged from their meeting, President Trump announced that they had agreed "to work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods."
Other administrations largely conceded to Europe's trade barriers. This president is fighting back, and he's winning! I hope this news causes some of Trump's critics to calm down.
While I don't expect the left will relax its "resistance," it is beyond frustrating to see Republican senators like Bob Corker and Jeff Flake joining Trump's foreign critics who are angry with him for trying to get a better deal for American workers.
When they do that, they are weakening the president's hand by signaling that he does not even have the full support of his own party.
Pompeo Pushes Back
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. The hearing was titled, "Update on American Diplomacy to Advance our National Security Strategy." For Senate liberals there was only one topic: Russia, Russia, Russia.
Check out this exchange between Pompeo and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). To his credit, Pompeo stood his ground, and he told the committee that the president did the same in his talk with Vladimir Putin.
Unlike my friend Dan Coats, who thought it was a good idea to get in a chuckle at the president's expense, Pompeo demonstrated how it's done.
And so too did Ambassador Nikki Haley!
On Tuesday, she not only lambasted the U.N. Security Council for its continued bias against Israel, she directly challenged the outrageous notion that the United States does not care about the plight of Palestinians, especially when compared to how little most Arab states do to promote peace or to support the Palestinians.
Watch her address here.
Please share this report with friends and family members so they can see the powerful leadership the Trump Administration is demonstrating around the world on behalf of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities, as well as our ally Israel. (Be certain to remove the "unsubscribe" feature at the bottom before sharing.)