Trump To Meet Mormon Church Leaders In Utah

Originally published on December 3, 2017 6:57 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump is heading to Utah tomorrow. And while a lot of attention has been focused on his decision to shrink two national monuments in the state, he's also going to visit with leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church. It's common for sitting presidents to meet with Mormon Church leaders.

But while the majority of Mormons identify as Republican, some 70 percent, members of the church have also been among President Trump's most vocal critics, including Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Utah's governor, Gary Herbert, who opposed the president's proposed Muslim ban during the campaign. That's one reason we thought we'd like to hear more about what we might expect from the president's meeting, so we've called Hal Boyd, opinion editor of the Deseret News, which is owned by the Mormon Church.

Hal Boyd, Thanks so much for speaking with us once again.

HAL BOYD: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So could you just set the stage for us? Is there anything in particular that you think that the church leaders are hoping to hear from the president?

BOYD: Well, I think they probably are going to have discussions. You know, the church is obviously very big on family and on faith and religious belief and religious liberty. And so kind of out of those derive certain policies that are important. The church, of course, is neutral on partisan politics, but with regard to principles, it's known to, you know, take stands. And I think they might discuss, as they did in 2015, the church's position on immigration. And, of course, the president is expected to tour Welfare Square, which is the church's kind of ground zero for its humanitarian and welfare programs and initiatives.

MARTIN: Your newspaper published an editorial during the campaign urging then-candidate Trump to drop out of the presidential race after "Access Hollywood" tapes surfaced of him bragging about groping women. That was a very unusual move for your paper. And then, as we've mentioned, a number of high-profile Mormon politicians have criticized the president for an - on a number of levels of vulgarity, policy questions, et cetera. I'm just wondering what kind of reception that he - is he going to get? And how is he generally viewed in the state now?

BOYD: Well, I can - as you sort of mentioned at the beginning, a lot of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affiliate as Republican, but - probably unusually so - there was quite a bit of aversion among the electorate in the state of Utah toward Trump. But traditionally, historians have characterized the church's relationship with any of the presidents or the administrations that have been in office as kind of the, quote, unquote, "good-neighbor policy." And that means, you know, assisting where the church can assist, obviously does not have the resources of the federal government, but if there's a niche where it can fill, it tries to fill that. And it tries to generally be a good neighbor.

MARTIN: Actually, what I'm really more interested in is just how people - church members feel.

BOYD: Well, I think that it's - there's certainly mixed emotions, I think, among the electorate here. And I would, you know, I can't extrapolate too broadly among, you know, church membership at large. But you obviously have members on both sides of the spectrum. I mean, if you look at the polling, President Trump's favorability has risen slowly and steadily in Utah. I think a lot of that is attributed to the fact that there is such a strong conservative Republican electorate here. But to deny that there is any sort of aversion among many in the state would be to sort of sweep it under the rug.

MARTIN: That's Hal Boyd. He's the opinion editor of the Deseret News. He was kind enough to join us from his home office in Salt Lake City. Hal Boyd, thanks so much for speaking with us.

BOYD: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.