SALT LAKE CITY — While pushing a shopping cart down a food aisle at the LDS Church Bishops' Central Storehouse, President Donald Trump acknowledged Monday that he is pressing Sen. Orrin Hatch to run for an eighth term.
"Yes," the president said in response to a reporter's shouted question as he pulled a bag of potatoes, canned peaches and canned beans from a shelf during a photo op on his tour of Welfare Square.
Responding to a follow-up question about whether he was trying to block former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney from running for the seat, Trump said, "He's a good man. Mitt's a good man."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' humanitarian hub on Salt Lake City's west side was the first stop on Trump's nearly three-hour visit to Utah. At the state Capitol, the president signed proclamations drastically cutting the sizes of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, President Russell M. Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Presiding Bishop Gerald Causse and Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, met privately with Trump and Hatch, who arranged the visit.
They talked about religious liberty and the church's welfare program. President Nelson and President Eyring said afterward that they also shared church doctrine with Trump. The two leaders gave the president a statuette of the Christus.
"A wonderful opportunity," President Nelson said.
Bishop's storehouse manager Joel Moriyama and Elder Devon Scovill and Sister Wilma Scovill, both voluntary church service missionaries, showed Trump around the bishops' storehouse.
"Good stuff," Trump said, pointing to a cart full of groceries.
Trump and LDS leaders spoke briefly to the media seated next to a Christmas tree and the American and Utah flags with a large painting of Jesus holding the hand of a destitute man on the wall behind them.
"This is very exciting for me. I know so many people that are in your church, the Latter-day Saints. The job you’ve done is beyond anything you could think of — taking care of people the way you take care of people and the respect that you have all over the world," the president said.
Trump then asked church leaders to tell reporters about the work the church has done to help people around the world.
Welfare Square is just one example of what the church does in 120 countries worldwide, President Eyring said.
"The idea being we think we have an obligation to God to look out for the people who without our aid have tragedy in their lives, either poverty or hunger," he said.
President Nelson told Trump that he was in China last week and Chinese LDS Church members were providing school supplies for children who didn't have them.
"Well, that was very nice," Trump said, adding "formerly a great heart surgeon, one of the best," regarding President Nelson.
Reporters shouted several questions at Trump as the media ushered out of the room, including why he had endorsed embattled Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore and, "Can the president obstruct justice?" in reference to Trump's tweet about former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The president didn't acknowledge the questions.
In his speech at the Capitol, Trump said he had just come from visiting with some "amazing" LDS leaders at Welfare Square.
"I spent a lot of time with them. In fact, I went around the store. I wanted a nice can of tuna fish, and they had plenty. They really help people. Incredible," he said.
Outside Welfare Square, about 100 protesters denounced the president. At the 800 South end of 700 West, a man with a microphone repeated, "Trump is not welcome in Utah. Protect Bears Ears. Protect public lands."
Ellen Young, who lives across the street from the welfare complex, plastered her house with hand-written posters such as "Keep your tiny hands off our public lands!" She said it's "despicable" that the LDS Church would host Trump.
Young said she didn't know how long she would keep the signs up because some Trump supporters cursed at protesters and threatened to come to her house and tear them down.
Another group gathered at the 700 South end of 700 West.
One man sporadically called for Trump's impeachment, others swore at his supporters, and some chanted lewd slogans and held vulgar signs. Security initially allowed protesters and supporters to move up and down 700 West across the street from Welfare Square, but when some protesters stopped in the middle of the block and refused to leave, a SWAT truck pulled up and dispersed them.
Bart Tippetts, who lives in the neighborhood, called Trump an embarrassment to the country and said the president doesn't represent Utah values. He was conflicted about Trump's tour of Welfare Square.
"I'm LDS, but I'm really embarrassed," he said. "The church does protocol, supports every president who comes to visit Utah, but it's an embarrassment to see this guy on church grounds."
A verbal scuffle between protesters and supporters broke out after the president arrived. Four people wearing "Make America Great Again" hats were part of a group of about a dozen Trump supporters who exchanged words with 50 protesters.
Todd McCausland, of South Salt Lake, wore one of the hats. "I was hoping to see the president and the motorcade," he said. "I have a lot of respect for him. He's an American who isn't one of those political sellouts. He stands up for regular Americans."
McCausland, who also is LDS, was glad the president visited Welfare Square. "I like the fact he's taking an interest in helping out people who may be a little underprivileged. I've needed help in the past and seeing him take an interest in helping is needed."
McCausland didn't mind the back-and-forth with Trump's protesters.
"I like it," he said. "I can listen to them and give them respect. I don't like the way they said some things, but I respect their right to say it, because I want them to listen to me and respect me when I have something to say."
Clint Madsen, of St. George, was in town visiting family and brought his four children to see the president, but they missed him, arriving after the president, whose motorcade then took a different route out of Welfare Square.
"We're big fans," Madsen said. "He's making America safer and improving the economy. I've seen a huge bump in investing since he took office. We're sad we missed him."
Troy Van Meter, a baker from Millcreek, was placing loaves of bread on a pallet for delivery when Trump arrived at the entrance to Deseret Bakery. The president stopped and waved, then asked if he needed a hairnet to enter. Told yes, he waved everyone out of the bakery.
"Then get everyone out here. I want to talk to you," the president said, according to Van Meter. The workers and service missionaries gathered around him as photojournalists took pictures.
"You guys are doing a good job helping the needy," Trump said, according to Elder Corey Davidson, a young church service missionary from Sandy.
"It was amazing," he said. "We were standing by very powerful people. The president of the Quorum of the Twelve, the first counselor in the First Presidency and the leader of the free world. It was a little intimidating, but the president was a lot more soft-spoken than I thought."
The president said he liked the smell of the bread, said Sister Anna Stephenson, a young church service missionary from Kaysville. Stephenson regularly works in the adjacent bishops' storehouse.
"Today was special," she said. "I got a security clearance for the bakery so I could be here for the president's visit."
After photographs, Trump approached Trevor Lofgren, a part-time baker. "Good job," he told Lofgren as they shook hands.
"I was glad he actually talked to me," Lofgren said. "It was exciting just to actually see all of them, plus to shake Donald Trump's hand."52 comments on this story
Several of the people who met the president said Trump was different than some portrayals they've seen.
"The world paints him as a cold-hearted dictator," Van Meter said, "but he was pretty soft-spoken. It seemed like he wants to do right. I respect him."
Not everyone agreed. One young church service missionary said he wasn't a fan — "I'm glad he was nice to us as opposed to his usual social media stuff" — and a baker who spoke with the president declined an interview.