U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions touted the Trump Administration’s work during his speech Friday on the first day of the Western Conservative Summit in Denver at the Colorado Convention Center.
His prepared remarks didn’t really fire up the crowd — the crowd itself pretty much did that: A few times during his speech, MAGA-friendly lines like “build the wall!” and “Merry Christmas!” were blurted out by audience members during his speech, prompting cheers and applause.
“We need to build that wall, I hear,” Sessions said responding to an audience member’s comment.
Still, his remarks about addressing “sanctuary jurisdiction,” keeping “vicious” MS-13 gang members out of the country, securing the border and supporting religious freedom played well in what organizers dub the largest gathering of conservatives outside of Washington.
“In the Trump era, we’ve already seen a historic string of victories for conservatives and the American people,” Sessions said. “Here’s my message: We’re going to keep up this pace. We’re not slowing down. We’re determined to keep winning and winning and winning.”
“And are we tired of it yet? Not yet,” Sessions said.
Sessions received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech. The former senator from Alabama was perhaps the biggest draw in this year’s event and one of two members of the Trump administration on the schedule, along with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, also speaking Friday.
Noting that this year’s crowd was larger than last year’s, Sessions said the audience’s size left him “thoroughly impressed.”
“I think it reflects something serious about the strength of the conservative movement in America,” Sessions said. “It’s healthy, it’s strong and we’re going to continue to be heard in public policy in this country.”
Sessions said conservatives have made a lot of progress in different areas during the current Trump era. The administration is advancing “good principles.” He said Trump — who’s currently under investigation by a special counsel — ran for office as a law and order candidate, and is governing as a law and order president.
“If you love the Constitution, if you respect it, you will enforce it as it was written — the good and the bad parts, even if you don’t like it,” Sessions said. “If you really want to venerate, strengthen the constitution, you’ll enforce it as written.”
Jeff Hunt, director at the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, which hosts the event, introduced Sessions as helping combat federal laws the Obama Administration failed to enforce.
Hunt said Sessions has “returned our country to a rule of law.”
“Unlike some U.S. senators and representatives, who’ve chosen to floor our communities with more drugs, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is protecting our children and fighting back against a growing drug cultural,” Hunt said.
Sessions praised Colorado baker Jack Philips following this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The Supreme Court sided with Philips on Monday, finding the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Philips’ First Amendment rights. The Trump Administration’s Solicitor General Noel Francisco (their attorney) argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Philips.
Sessions praised Philips, calling him,“a courageous Colorado baker who would not back down and stood for his beliefs, almost alone at times it seems, under great oppression,” Sessions said. “He did not back down.”
Under the current administration, Sessions said religious Americans won’t be treated, “as an afterthought, as deplorables.” He said the administration recognizes, “the value of religion to society and culture.”
Earlier, Sessions said the Constitution doesn’t just protect the freedom of thought, but the open expression of religious belief in public.
“The first phrase, in the First Amendment, even before free speech, says, (it) protects the free exercise of religion,” Sessions said, prompting some “amens” from the crowd.
One topic of discussion missing from Sessions remarks? Legalized weed.
Sessions didn’t mention Colorado’s legal weed industry during his speech, which many felt he placed in his crosshairs earlier this year.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who also spoke Friday, announced in April that the Justice Department assured him they would be keeping the guidelines set forth by the Obama-era memo.
However, Sessions spoke to CPR on Friday before his speech about enforcing federal laws while respecting the Gardner deal.
“We respect Colorado and its laws like we do other states. And we enforce federal law around the country,” Sessions told CPR.
During his speech, Sessions spoke about the department’s efforts to reduce the number of drug overdose deaths in the country and targeting the opioid crisis.
“This department is going after drug companies, doctors, pharmacists, and other who violate the law,” Sessions said. He added that the majority of methamphetamine , heroin and cocaine is grown south of the border.
On Friday, President Trump said he would likely support a bipartisan effort in Congress easing the country’s ban on marijuana, the AP reported. The effort was backed and introduced this week by Gardner and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. The bill would give states more rights over how they handle marijuana.
“I support Senator Gardner. I know exactly what he’s doing,” Trump told reporters, according to the AP. “We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”
Attendees said they came to learn more about the party’s platform and listen to speakers.
Frank de Monbrun, of Centennial, said he’s been a member of conservative groups in the past, but this was the first time he decided to attend the Western Conservative Summit
“Honestly, the program and the speakers have just been top-shelf,” de Monbrun said. He’s a big fan of Sessions, whom he said he’s seen “grown up” since his time in Congress. “I think he’s proven his chops.”
De Monbrun didn’t get to hear his preferred gubernatorial candidate for Colorado governor, Greg Lopez (he’s scheduled to speak Saturday). De Monbrun said he likes Lopez’s business acumen and his political background.
“For me, it’s important that he’s a veteran,” De Monbrun, who’s a U.S. Navy veteran, said of Lopez.
Aurora resident Regina Thomson, who said she’s attended every Western Conservative Summit, is heavily involved in politics and formerly served in Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign — and then made waves trying to get fellow delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention to “dump Trump.” She said she’s voting for Stapleton in the primary.
“For me, it’s more of a purpose in life,” Thomson said about the summit. “It’s not entertainment. I’m here to connect with people.”
She had hoped to hear Sessions discuss more about Hillary Clinton’s email controversy.
“He skillfully avoided the issues people wanted to hear about,” Thomson said.
She was more excited to hear the speakers on Saturday’s schedule, including Frank Gaffney, who the Anti-Defamation League describes as an anti-Islam think-tank founder who was once controversial among conservatives.
Marilyn Manley drove from Erie to attend the Summit. She said she attended to learn more about the party’s platform and get more information straight from the source.
She said this year’s program so far has been excellent. Like Thomson, she’s a longtime attendee.
“Sessions was good. Cory Gardner … I think he gave an excellent speech,” Manley said, calling Gardner’s speech “eye-opening” for his criticism of Bernie Sanders.
The Western Conservative Summit will continue Saturday, with speakers including NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch and conservative commentators Diamond & Silk scheduled to speak.