APTOPIX Trump

President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON —  During a celebratory address marking his impeachment acquittal, President Donald Trump heaped praise upon Louisiana Republicans who have been among his closest allies. 

"Fortunately we have great men and women who came to our defense. If we didn't, this would have been a horrific incident for our country," Trump said during the unscripted White House address Thursday that stretched for more than an hour and included personal mentions for many Republican lawmakers who voted against impeaching and convicting Trump.

All of the Republican members of the Louisiana delegation opposed Trump's impeachment. Several of them received special recognition during the address, which Trump called a celebration of his acquittal.  

U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Jefferson Republican, sat on the front row alongside other Republican leaders.

Trump spent more than seven minutes praising Scalise and retelling what happened in the 2017 congressional baseball shooting and its aftermath. Scalise almost died after taking a bullet to the hip when a gunman opened fire on Republicans as they practiced for the charity baseball game. Trump visited the hospital the night of the shooting and stayed in regular contact with Scalise during his recovery. The president has since taken to calling Scalise "my Steve" and often remarks about his bravery.

"What a guy," Trump said Thursday to an applauding audience of his supporters, including members of Congress, Trump's cabinet, his attorneys and his family.

U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, a Bossier City attorney, was among House Republicans picked to serve on Trump's defense team as the impeachment saga entered the Senate trial phase. Trump said Johnson appeared to come from "central casting" for the role, using a showbiz phrase he often goes to when describing someone he thinks looks the part for the role they play.

"You can represent me anytime," Trump said.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Baton Rouge Republican who is facing his first Senate re-election bid this fall, won Trump's praise for his efforts on health care.

"When I need to know about health insurance, preexisting conditions and individual mandates, I call Bill."

But the event wasn't all about thanking his supporters. Trump also laced into his critics, including U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, the only Republican who sided "guilty" with Democrats in the Senate when impeachment articles came to a vote this week.

"Say hello to the people of Utah and tell them, 'I’m sorry about Mitt Romney. I’m sorry,'" Trump told Utah's other U.S. Sen. Mike Lee during the freewheeling address and airing of grievances.

Returning to Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, later in the speech, Trump said, "The only one that voted against was a guy that can't stand the fact that he ran one of the worst campaigns in the history of the presidency."

His fiercest jabs were reserved for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, both California Democrats who he called "vicious" and "horrible," and he called former FBI Director James Comey a “sleaze.”

“It was evil. It was corrupt," Trump said of the impeachment saga. “It was a disgrace.”

Some criticized the tone of the event and compared it to the more somber address Bill Clinton gave after the Senate acquitted him of impeachment charges in 1999.

Scalise said he saw Trump's remarks as "a wake up call to people who are still trying to abuse impeachment."

"You can't have these abuses go unchecked," he said.

Email Elizabeth Crisp at ecrisp@theadvocate.com and follow on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.