In the last 24 hours, President Trump asked Israel not to build planned settlement homes, had a heated phone call with the Australian prime minister and promised to destroy the Johnson amendment.
Here is a rundown of what happened and why it matters.
Warning to Israel
Trump warned Israel’s government Thursday to hold off on building settlements, slightly backing off the strong support for Israel he expressed during his presidential campaign.
Support for Israel was one of Trump’s most prominent foreign policy stances during his campaign. His pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a strong supporter of the building of settlements in Israel-occupied West Bank. Since Trump’s inauguration, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has announced the building of more than 5,000 new homes in already settled areas in West Bank and the building of a brand-new settlement.
“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” the White House said in a statement. “The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity and looks forward to continuing discussions, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visits with President Trump later this month.”
Trump and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet Feb. 15, when they will discuss the future of Israel settlements.
Diplomacy with Australia
In a call Wednesday night with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump objected to an agreement made during Barack Obama’s presidency that would have the United States receive refugees from Australia who are living in detention centers on islands off the mainland due to strict government policies, according to CNN.
Many of the refugees are from the seven countries under Trump’s ban.
Trump insisted it was a very bad deal for the U.S. to take 2,000 refugees and that one of them was going to be the next Boston bomber, according to CNN.
Turnbull also told Trump several times the agreement was for 1,250 refugees, not 2,000. He also said Australia was asking to submit them to the U.S. for refugee screening, and if the refugees did not pass the U.S. screening process, they would not be sent over.
Trump tweeted Wednesday night criticizing Obama’s decision to accept the Australian refugees.
“Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!” he said.
Trump promises to destroy the Johnson amendment
Trump addressed religious freedom and reiterated his desire to repeal the Johnson amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning.
The Johnson amendment limits the ability of religious tax-exempt organizations to endorse or oppose a political candidate.
At the breakfast, Trump said Americans should have the “right to worship according to our own beliefs.”
“That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. I will do that,” he said.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence promised to repeal the Johnson amendment on the campaign trail.
“The Johnson amendment has blocked our pastors and ministers and others from speaking their minds from their own pulpits,” Trump said at the Values Voter Summit in September.
Pence told the group at the same event that by repealing the Johnson amendment, “we will take the muzzle off.”
The president did not say the path he would take to repeal the amendment, which would require congressional action.
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