DAVID GREENE, HOST:
White evangelicals helped fuel Donald Trump's run to the White House, but now there are increasing concerns among some evangelical leaders about sex scandal allegations swirling around the president. They are worried that they could cause conservative Christian voters to stay home in an election year. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports that some of these leaders are organizing a meeting with the president in an effort to stem a potential Democratic wave, and Sarah is with us. Hi there, Sarah.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So I know you've been breaking the news of this meeting here. What exactly is being planned?
MCCAMMON: Well, white evangelical leaders may not love everything about President Trump's personality or personal life, but they do like what he's doing in terms of public policy. And they don't want to see that eroded in the 2018 midterms. So they want to get together with him and - they're hoping - hundreds of other pastors and other influential evangelical leaders to strategize about this fall and sort of drum up, you know, voter enthusiasm. They see how organized and energized Democrats are - the victories Democrats have had in elections so far in places like Virginia and Alabama and Pennsylvania. And a lot of that energy has been focused on resisting President Trump's agenda.
Now, this is all happening at a time, of course, when the president faces a fresh slate of sex scandal allegations from women including porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she was paid $130,000 to stay quiet about an alleged affair with Trump, which of course he denies.
MCCAMMON: And just yesterday, the president told reporters he didn't know about the $130,000 payment from his lawyer Michael Cohen to Daniels just before the November election in 2016. But all that together has some evangelical leaders worried their voters won't turn out in November in the numbers needed to offset what looks like a Democratic wave.
GREENE: And so what are the plans for this meeting? Where's it going to happen and when?
MCCAMMON: Well, it's going to be - the plan is at Trump International Hotel on June 19. And I'm told it will be focused on voting as a Christian's civic duty - not necessarily a partisan event, I'm told. But remember that white evangelical voters in particular are a key constituency for the Republican Party. More than 80 percent supported President Trump in 2016. And I should say the White House, so far, is declining to comment. But organizers say the plan is to invite hundreds of leaders from across the country to sit down with the president at his hotel in Washington, D.C., for at least an hour.
GREENE: Oh, this is interesting. It sounds like this is more of a political strategy session, talking about making sure that, you know, Republicans actually turnout. It doesn't sound so much like these are leaders who want to, you know, bluntly confront the president over some of these allegations.
MCCAMMON: Right. They tell me that it's not clear whether or not the Stormy Daniels scandal, for instance, will come up on stage. But one source told me it's likely to come up in smaller sidebar conversations with the president. Another source said there's been, you know, some concern among some of the planners that having Trump there could be a liability - that some evangelical leaders might stay away.
But the reality is a lot of evangelical leaders say he's still very popular, again, in the issues they care about - things like abortion, religious liberty, moving the capital of Israel to Jerusalem. Many white evangelicals are very, very happy. And they want to preserve those gains they've seen over the past couple of years. So the big focus will be on strategy, on talking, perhaps, about issues to focus on. And, of course, the president can draw a crowd.
GREENE: Is there an ethical concern that this is happening potentially at Donald Trump's own hotel - like, if it's going to be a session that's a lot about politics and so forth?
MCCAMMON: Interestingly, none of the evangelical leaders I've spoken to seemed worried about it. One said, you know, that isn't on the planners' minds - that this is what was described as the best deal in town. But, of course, watchdogs in Washington, D.C., might think differently.
GREENE: NPR's Sarah McCammon breaking news this morning about a meeting that evangelical leaders are planning with the president in June. Sarah, thanks a lot for your reporting.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
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