Donald Trump Meets Evangelical Leaders In New York

Jun 21, 2016
Originally published on June 21, 2016 6:28 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The week started off with big questions about Donald Trump's campaign, and they go on, especially now that we know how much money the Trump campaign has in the bank.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The latest campaign finance reports came out. Trump has about $1.3 million of cash on hand. Hillary Clinton has $42 million. In a moment, NPR's Mara Liasson will look past that huge gap to see what else Republicans are worried about.

CORNISH: First to Manhattan where Donald Trump spent part of the day reaching out to a population that's been vitally important to recent Republican campaigns, evangelical Christians. He met with a large group of evangelical leaders in a closed-door session, and NPR's Sarah McCammon was one of the reporters allowed to sit in on that meeting. She's on the line from New York.

And Sarah, what did all those leaders hear from Donald Trump today?

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Well, you know, before addressing the whole group at this hotel in Times Square in New York, he - Trump met with a smaller group of about 40 leaders or so. I was not in on that meeting, but we do know from a video tweeted by one of the participants, Reverend E.W. Jackson, that Trump wondered aloud about Hillary Clinton's faith.

DONALD TRUMP: She's been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there's no - there's nothing out there.

MCCAMMON: Now, I should note that Hillary Clinton has been very open about her Methodist faith. Later Trump stressed his love for his family and promised the large group of several hundred evangelicals that he would protect their religious freedom.

And he talked about his Supreme Court picks. He's released a list of 11 or so people he says he might choose for Supreme Court justices and promised to release four or five more names soon.

CORNISH: Is the makeup of the Supreme Court and the next president's role in nominating justices a top issue for evangelical voters?

MCCAMMON: Audie, at this point, it really feels like it is. Many of these evangelicals did not have Donald Trump as their first choice in the primary. But at this point, you know, it's a choice between him and Hillary Clinton in many people's minds or a third party candidate.

And do you know what Mark Gonzales told me? He's the head of the evangelical group Hispanic Action Network. He said for him, immigration is still a really big concern about Trump, but, quote, "we have decided at the end of the day, where the rubber meets the road is the Supreme Court." And so he said issues like abortion and same-sex marriage are, you know, the biggest issues for him.

CORNISH: And on that issue, Donald Trump has been making overtures to the gay community in his speeches. Is that something that worries this group of evangelicals?

MCCAMMON: Yeah, it's a concern I heard today from a lot of them. At one point during the large group discussion, Donald Trump was asked basically for his take on these conscience questions - basically, like, should businesses be required to bake cakes or sell flowers to same-sex weddings if, you know, if they're conservative Christians who disagree with that.

And he more or less sidestepped the question other than to say that his judges would be better in those kinds of cases than judges appointed by Hillary Clinton. And that really was the big message today - that it's him versus Hillary Clinton.

You know, then at a press briefing later in the day after Trump had left, protesters interrupted a couple of times and stood up and asked some of these evangelical leaders when they would, quote, "take responsibility for their positions on LGBT issues and linked some of those positions to hate crimes, even the shooting in Orlando."

CORNISH: And just a few seconds left - the reaction from the room in the end?

MCCAMMON: You know, overall fairly positive, but they say it's a continuing conversation with Donald Trump.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon speaking to us from Manhattan. Sarah, thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.