President Joe Biden spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday which is no longer overseen by a religious organization. The National Prayer Breakfast Foundation, headed by former Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, has taken over after concerns about it being too divisive.
“The whole reason the House and Senate wanted to do this was to return it to its roots, when House members and Senate members can come together and pray for the president, pray for his family and administration, pray for our government, the world,” Pryor said.
Pryor said he hoped the smaller event will regain the intimacy that is similar to the weekly nondenominational prayer gatherings on Capitol Hill. Groups of senators and representatives have long held unofficial meetings for fellowship and to temporarily set aside political differences.
The prayer breakfast addressed by the president has been the highlight of a multiday event for 70 years. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to attend, in February 1953, and every president since has spoken at the gathering.
The larger event, put on by a private religious group called the International Foundation, has always been centered around “the person and principles of Jesus, with a focus on praying for leaders of our nation and from around the world,” the group’s spokesman, A. Larry Ross, said.
In recent years, questions about the foundation, its funding and attendees had led some to reconsider the involvement of Congress. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia stopped going in 2016 because the event “had become an entertainment and lobbying extravaganza rather than an opportunity for spiritual reflection,” a Kaine spokeswoman said. Kaine will attend Thursday.
At today’s event, President Biden noted that Americans are “seeing each other as enemies rather than as competitors.”
“While we have profound differences over the last two years that divide us, we’ve proven we can come together to do big things for the country,” Biden said. “We can redeem the soul of America.”
He said Americans can “go forward together” to progress on the serious issues facing the country.
“Let’s be the doers of the word. Let’s keep the faith. Let’s remember who we are. We are the United States of America. We’re born out of an idea. No other nation is born of an idea,” Biden said.
Biden said his prayer for this National Prayer Breakfast is that “we start seeing each other again, to argue like hell with each other, but still go to lunch together.”
“That’s what Kevin and I are gonna do. Not a joke,” Biden said referring to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “We had a good meeting yesterday. I think we got to do it across the board. Doesn’t mean we’re gonna agree and fight like hell. But let’s treat each other with respect.”
Earlier this month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter signed by 30 groups to the White House and members of Congress asking them to boycott the event because of questions about the International Foundation.
Critics of today’s event noted that in recent years the event had focused on Conservative religious ideals but the newly revamped “non-religious” event became a mouthpiece for liberal Democrats.
–Dwight Widaman | MV