Faith leaders told President Donald Trump at a private meeting at the White House this week that they saw the Democrats’ impeachment efforts in Congress as an attack on their conservative agenda, several attendees told McClatchy.
Trump’s meeting on Tuesday with at least 25 faith leaders from around the country was not on his public schedule, however it was acknowledged by a brief White House statement later that day.
Johnnie Moore, a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom who attended the meeting, said faith-based leaders vented about the impact of impeachment efforts on their legislative priorities and that the sentiment was, “they’re trying to impeach us.”
“Agree or disagree with the evangelical community, we represent a third of the country in some form. In a democracy, our voice matters, and our voice deserves representation in the public square,” Moore said.
Evangelicals in the briefing, most of whom are openly aligned with Trump, expressed “incredible frustration” with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party for being distracted by impeachment and “trying to do everything they possibly can to undo the 2016 election,” Moore said.
Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Dallas and a participant in the meeting, has been promoting a Public Religion Research Institute poll that found 94 percent of Republicans and 99 percent of evangelical Republicans oppose impeachment.
“Many evangelicals like myself believe that this is more than just a political skirmish,” he told McClatchy.
“They really believe that to impeach President Trump would be to impeach their own closely held values. And that’s why they take impeachment so personally,” Jeffress said about the faith leaders.
Jeffress in a September television interview had said impeachment would lead to a “civil war-like fracture” — a comment that Trump then promoted on Twitter.
Trump has repeatedly called impeachment efforts a “witch hunt.”
In his meeting with evangelical leaders, attendees said Trump did not seem anxious about the impeachment proceedings.
Trump discussed criminal justice reform, judicial nominations, abortion, opioid abuse, human trafficking and promoting religious freedom around the world, attendees said. The faith community has been working with the administration on those issues, which they see as an extension of their pro-life beliefs.
“Criminal justice reform is certainly an issue that I think the faith based community is very happy about, including parts of the community that may not naturally be Republican,” said Gary Bauer, president of American Values.
Trump also brought up Ukraine and his call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, which is key to the impeachment inquiry, and reiterated that he had done nothing wrong, attendees said.
They said Trump spoke about the secret U.S. raid in which Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died. He pledged to keep up the pressure on ISIS while pushing for Turkey to shoulder more of the burden.
Some Christian leaders had urged Trump not to pull American troops out of Syria, where the Islamic State was targeting religious minorities, including Christians and Yazidis, and expressed dismay at Trump’s decision to abandon Kurdish allies that had fought to protect them.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told McClatchy earlier this month shortly after U.S. forces withdrew that Trump’s decision had “shaken” the evangelical community. Perkins also attended the October 29 meeting at the White House.
But faith leaders are now claiming unity with the president, in light of the Baghdadi operation.
“By and large, the strong feeling is that he made a pledge to not stay in these no-win conflicts and there’s been universal pleasure at the fact that he had the courage to make the decision on Baghdadi,” said Bauer, who was once a Republican candidate for president in 2000.
After Tuesday’s meeting, the White House issued a statement that said: “They took the time to pray for the President and for the Nation. The leaders discussed the Administration’s many accomplishments for the American people and how the communities they represent from across the country are benefitting from these important policies.”
Reached for comment, the White House declined to provide additional details about the gathering.