Christian Advocates Booked Trump Hotel To Coincide With White House Briefing

Courtesy: Jonathan O'Connell | News Source:

When dozens of Catholic leaders prepared to meet with Trump administration officials last month, one advocacy group planned a reception at an increasingly common stopping point for conservative religious groups in Washington: President Trump’s D.C. hotel.

CatholicVote, a political action group that lobbies on behalf of candidates who oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, held a 50-person afternoon reception on Dec. 16, the same day it and other Catholic groups met administrative officials for a briefing on “religious freedom,” according to internal hotel documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The afternoon reception, offering drinks and appetizers including beef Wellington and jumbo shrimp cocktail, was organized by former Republican congressman Tim Huelskamp, the group’s senior political adviser, according to the documents.

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Huelskamp, a former chairman of the House Tea Party Caucus, is known for his strong social conservatism, including opposition to same-sex marriage.

CatholicVote selected the Trump hotel not to curry political favor with the administration but because it was a nice hotel near the White House, said a spokesman for the group, Joshua Mercer.

“It’s pretty simple, actually. It was a beautiful venue with close proximity to the White House,” he said.

The event was modest by luxury hotel standards. Documents show it probably cost at least $2,500 but not the tens of thousands of dollars that large room bookings and events can bring luxury hotels. Mercer declined to provide a total of the group’s spending at the hotel. A Trump Organization spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.CatholicVote is the latest in a long line of conservative religious organizations to book an event at the Trump hotel while trying to build support for its cause in Washington, causing concern among ethics experts, government watchdog groups and congressional Democrats.

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Other religious groups that have booked events at the hotel during Trump’s presidency include the Museum of the Bible, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Revival Outside the Walls Ministry, the First Liberty Institute and the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, according to hotel documents and news reports.

CatholicVote is not connected to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as the bishops of the U.S. Catholic Church have their own lobbying efforts. Recently the president of CatholicVote announced plans to use cellphone tracking data to target Christian voters in key states this year.

At the Dec. 16 briefing, held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building the day of CatholicVote’s hotel reception, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and attendees discussed legislation introduced by House Republicans earlier in December. Called the Fairness for All Act, the bill attempts to balance LGBTQ protections with concerns of conservative religious leaders, according to the Catholic Telegraph.

LGBTQ advocates oppose the legislation, and some take issue with the business that conservative religious groups are booking at Trump’s hotel.

“The reality is Catholic voters overwhelmingly support full non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national group headquartered in the District that advocates for LGTBQ rights, said in a statement.

David called CatholicVote’s booking of the Trump hotel shameful and said “the fact that this corrupt back channel exists in the first place is the deeper problem.”

CatholicVote’s opposition to LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections appears to be out of step with the majority of Catholics. Roughly 7 in 10 American Catholics support laws protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people against discrimination, according to 2018 polling from the Public Religion Research Institute.

Critics of Trump have routinely raised concerns about special interest groups currying favor with the administration by spending money at the president’s hotel, which he still owns because he retained his stake in his business when he entered the White House.

The president’s company, now run by his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, is trying to sell its lease to the hotel, which operates in a federally owned building, the Old Post Office Pavilion, on a lease the company signed in 2013. The deadline for bids is Jan. 23.

Last week, House Democrats Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon and Dina Titus of Nevada stepped up the pressure by announcing they plan to hold a Jan. 28 hearing on the General Services Administration’s withholding of documents related to the hotel.

“In addition to discussing GSA’s development and execution of the OPO lease, we will examine GSA’s role in the Trump Organization’s current effort to sell the OPO lease,” the Democrats said in a statement.

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