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US Trump Privately Urges Pastors to Help Him From the Pulpit in Midterms

23:16  28 august  2018
23:16  28 august  2018 Source:   nytimes.com

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Donald Trump et al. standing next to a man in a suit and tie: President Trump during a prayer at a dinner for evangelical leadership in the State Dining Room of the White House on Monday evening.© Doug Mills/The New York Times President Trump during a prayer at a dinner for evangelical leadership in the State Dining Room of the White House on Monday evening.

WASHINGTON — In remarks to evangelical ministers in the White House State Dining Room on Monday night, President Trump spoke in high-minded tones about religious liberty, abortion and youth unemployment. He noted a John Adams quote carved into the room’s fireplace: “I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house.”

But once reporters and television cameras were ushered out of the room, Mr. Trump turned to the more pragmatic concerns of how evangelical leaders can use their pulpits to help Republicans win in the midterm elections, according to an audiotape of his remarks provided to The New York Times by someone who attended the event.

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“I just ask you to go out and make sure all of your people vote,” Mr. Trump told the group of about 100 evangelical ministers. “Because if they don’t — it’s Nov. 6 — if they don’t vote we’re going to have a miserable two years and we’re going to have, frankly, a very hard period of time because then it just gets to be one election — you’re one election away from losing everything you’ve got.”

Mr. Trump spent most of his private remarks to the group bragging about having gotten “rid of” the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 provision of tax law that threatened religious organizations, like churches, with the loss of tax-exempt status if they endorse or oppose political candidates.

Under that amendment, Mr. Trump said, religious leaders had been prevented from speaking their minds.

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“Maybe it’s why you are very plateaued. I hate to say it, if you were a stock, you’d be like, you’re very plateaued,” Mr. Trump said, prompting laughter in the room. “I really believe you’re plateaued because you can’t speak. They really have silenced you. But now you’re not silenced anymore.”

The president recalled when he first learned about the Johnson Amendment at a meeting during the 2016 campaign, when several dozen pastors and ministers came to see him at Trump Tower in New York City. He said he was pleased by the meeting because the religious leaders seemed to like him.

“I know when people like me,” Mr. Trump said. “I know when people don’t like me. You know, pretty good at that stuff. A lot of them like, and some don’t and that’s O.K. But this group really liked me.”

Mr. Trump also recalled on Monday night looking out the window during the Trump Tower meeting, though it was unclear why he chose to discuss it.

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“We were in the 68th floor of Trump Tower and we looked down on the sidewalks and there were thousands and thousands of people,” he said. “They looked like ants, little people going all over — boom, boom, boom — so little, ’cause when you’re 68 floors, they look really small. But there were a lot of them.”

Mr. Trump said he told the religious leaders at that campaign meeting that he would oppose the Johnson Amendment if he won the presidency and “fight very hard to make sure that provision gets taken away.”

In fact, the president has fallen short of that promise.

Eliminating the provision in the law would require Congress to act. Instead, Mr. Trump signed an executive order in May 2017 directing the Internal Revenue Service not to aggressively pursue cases where a church endorses a candidate or makes political donations.

Legal experts have said the I.R.S. has very rarely pursued such cases against churches, and religious leaders have often been outspoken about politics even if they have had to stop short of officially endorsing a candidate.

Mr. Trump ignored that reality Monday night. He urged religious leaders to use what he described as their newfound freedom of speech to campaign from the pulpit on behalf of Republican candidates.

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“You have people that preach to almost 200 million people — 150 to, close, depending on which Sunday we are talking about, and beyond Sunday, 100, 150 million people,” he said.

Mr. Trump warned that if Republicans do not retain control of Congress, religious communities would lose all of the gains he had secured on their behalf.

“They will end everything immediately,” he said, apparently referring to Democrats. He added, again without being clear whom he was talking about: “They will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently. And violently. There’s violence. When you look at Antifa, and you look at some of these groups, these are violent people.”

Antifa is a term that describes some militant, leftist anti-fascist groups in the United States.

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