WASHINGTON (AP) — A Texas Republican said Thursday he was deeply disturbed by explicit signs at the Women's March on Washington last month while acknowledging that President Donald Trump's vulgar and sexually predatory comments about women triggered the display.
Of the march the day after the inauguration, Rep. Mike Conaway said, "On balance, it was terrific." But the six-term congressman, an ordained deacon in the Baptist church, said he was bothered by some women's actions and believes the country needs to reclaim a moral high ground.
"There was a taint to that march that just cut me to the core," Conaway said at an Agriculture Department event. "Women carrying signs and wearing costumes in the foulest, nastiest, crudest, crassest manner possible, talking about female body parts."
Conaway acknowledged that many of the signs were a reaction to the October release of a recording from 2005, in which Trump made a series of comments about groping women. In the tape, Trump bragged to a TV personality that his fame allowed him to force himself on women.
"The trigger for that obviously was Mr. Trump's exchange with Billy Bush, which should never have happened, it was never excused in a private conversation, but now it's perfectly all right to carry signs as badges of honor across this nation's capital," Conaway said.
Conaway, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, made his comments after speaking to the audience of department employees and farm groups about upcoming farm legislation in Congress. He closed the speech by asking the group to "hang with me for a second" while he diverged from the subject of agriculture.
He spoke about the nation's founding fathers and said that only a religious and moral people could self-govern. He said, "You've got to live a moral code."
Referring to the song "God Bless America," Conaway asked, "Can God bless the killing of 57 million babies in 43 years? Can he bless the coarsening of our society, the language we use, the stuff that comes out of Hollywood that we think's entertainment, the way we deify in many instances the folks that put that on?"
As he ended, Conaway thanked the group for allowing him to preach. When he became chairman of the agriculture panel in 2015, he started saying prayers at the beginning of each hearing.
At a question and answer session afterward, one man who did not identify himself said he had had relatives at the march and Conaway should "start by confessing your role in the problems that our country has."
Some of the several hundred people in the room clapped, while others jeered at the questioner.
"I am a sinner saved by grace," Conaway responded. "No better than anybody else, I sin every single day. I do things that offend God every single day. I try not to let that happen."
Conaway's committee has spent the past two years reviewing the nation's food stamp program and is laying the groundwork for an overhaul. Conaway said Republicans will propose "meaningful reform" to the $70 billion-a-year program when the farm bill is up for renewal next year.
A committee report issued last year suggested the panel may try to strengthen work requirements, tighten eligibility requirements or provide new incentives to encourage recipients to buy more healthful foods.