Rev. Sam Rodriguez: Trump’s “Heart Is in the Right Place”

A Pew Research Center poll found at least 82% of white evangelicals are preparing to vote again for President Trump, but he also has growing support among non-white evangelicals. Pastor Sam Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He tells Michel Martin why he thinks President Trump’s “heart is in the right place.”

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Now, 26 days to go to the U.S. election, and both candidates are after, of course, every last vote. A Pew Research Center poll found at least 82 percent of white evangelicals are preparing to vote again for President Trump, which is his famous base, of course. But he also has growing support amongst non white evangelicals. Pastor Sam Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. And, here, he talks to our Michel Martin about how he once had the ear of President Obama and why now he advises President Trump.

MICHEL MARTIN: Thanks, Christiane. Pastor Sam, thank you so much for joining us once again.


MARTIN: For those who may not remember, you have been with us before. You offered prayer at President Trump’s inauguration in 2016. And it was a sort of an important and powerful moment for you. But you had been connecting with and consulting with previous presidents. This is not the first sort of president that you have been close to. But this is the first time you were offered the opportunity to offer prayer at a presidential inauguration. Did you vote for President Trump?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, you know me well enough that I won’t share who I voted for. But I worked with George W. Bush, advised President Bush. I worked with President Obama for eight years. And now I’m advising President Trump. So, I never share who I voted for. Actually, it’s just part of my covenant with God and my family.

MARTIN: It’s been reported in the media that you’re campaigning for him. So, that — is that not true?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, no, I’m campaigning for life, religious liberty and biblical justice. That’s what I’m campaigning for in 2020. To be very forthright, I was out there in 2008 for President Obama, because I believed in his vision for America. And I do believe that, right now — I’m an independent, but I do believe the Democratic Party has shifted so, so much to the left on these issues, on life, on religious liberty, that I am compelled, because of my children and my children’s children, to advocate policies that line up with our biblical world view.

MARTIN: So, to that question, President Trump has ably demonstrated that he is against abortion. But with more than 200,000 people dead because of a COVID-19 crisis, the reporting indicates that he was not forthright about and did not take seriously at the outset, has he demonstrated he’s truly pro-life?

RODRIGUEZ: No, this COVID-19 has impacted all of us. I was there in the beginning for certain conversations, working on the National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, giving advice as it pertains to churches and the response to COVID and even post facto. So, I can tell you from the get go there was a commission from this administration to deal with COVID in a very deliberate, intentional manner, while simultaneously protecting our God-given rights. The tension constantly has been one issue. Do we give up our rights in the midst of a pandemic or any other circumstance, as the government deems as an emergency? And I believe that tension is real. It’s legitimate. We should have a viable conversation. But I do not believe that President Trump has given up or forsaken or neglected the sanctity of life in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MARTIN: But why do you think this country has the worst — one of the worst death rates? It has certainly the worst overall number of deaths in the world. And it’s got among the worst death rates for an affluent country. None of our peer economies, countries with comparable economies, level of resources, level of sort of access to technology are suffering the way this country has. And I certainly don’t think I need to tell you that black and brown people are among…


MARTIN: … the people who have been most devastated by this epidemic. Why is that?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, with great due deference — and I have an incredible amount of respect for you — of course, with great due deference, I would argue on the death rate. I do agree the number of deaths is, of course, egregious, and any one life that is lost, of course, impacts all of us. But there’s a difference between proportionality as it pertains to the population and the actual death rate in comparison to similar nations.


MARTIN: The death rate — forgive me. Forgive me, Pastor. Forgive me, Pastor. That is disingenuous. The death rate per thousand is worse in the United States than it is in any peer industrial country. We’re not talking about India here. We’re not talking about Brazil here. And we’re not even talking about Mexico here. We’re talking about countries like New Zealand. We’re talking about Germany. We’re talking about Australia. We’re talking about countries with similar economies to ours. And the death rate in the United States is far worse. So, tell me why you think that is, because the critics of this administration say it’s because this administration has failed to take the steps that would be necessary.


RODRIGUEZ: I would disagree with that. Two of those three nations are two of my favorite nations,. I travel frequently every year, prior to COVID, Australia and New Zealand. These are nations that are, of course, island nations, isolated. So they have the luxury of being able to shut down their borders like this immediately. And they did, both Australia and New Zealand. Yesterday, I spoke to one of the major pastoral leaders in Australia discussing the COVID reality, by coincidence. Now, Germany, of course, we look at China travel as it pertains to those that already had the Wuhan — the initial virus. And there was great amount of travel going around the world. And the president deliberately stated, we’re going to make this, incorporate this travel ban, which I think had a lot of a credible amount of foresight. He was critiqued initially as being xenophobic or racist and so forth. Again, he shut that down.  If not for that decision right there, this 200,000-plus may be two million- plus. So, I do believe — I don’t think everything has been pristine, by the way. I don’t. I will give you an example. Let me critique not just the administration for a second, but all of us. I remember having conversations with individuals stating from our government, from our government, on both sides of the aisle, telling us that we shouldn’t wear masks, that masks were basically a waste of time, that they would do absolutely nothing to deter the spread of the virus. And then we come to find out that it may be the primary deterrent mechanism. So, across the board — and that came from both sides of the aisle. Across the board, I don’t think we have been perfect. At the same time, I think things could be enormously worse if not for the actions taken this administration.


MARTIN: Now, if this administration is willing — forgive me, Pastor Sam. If this administration is willing to tell women they can’t have an abortion, why isn’t it willing to tell the rest of the country they have to a wear a mask? This administration has steadfastly resisted guidance to the governors and ordering a national mask mandate. How is that pro-life?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, there’s a couple things here. One, this administration is addressing not just abortion. I think Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, not that I agree with it. I believe every life is precious and has sanctity value that comes from God. With that being said, this administration is basically countering late-term abortion and even post-birth abortion, i.e., the governor of Virginia. So, this is not Barack Obama’s 2008 abortion policy. Hence, that’s why you see now in a recent survey from last week, more Latino people self-identified as evangelicals. The numbers are up. They seem to be inclined to vote for President Trump because of that abortion sort of unbridled commitment, this obsession on the Democratic Party’s part of late-term abortion and even post-birth abortion. Who does that?


MARTIN: Pastor Sam, that is not the position of Joe Biden at all. It just isn’t.


RODRIGUEZ: I’m sorry. It is the position of the Democratic Party, absolutely. Every single time Joe Biden, who I think is a good person, Joe Biden, when he is asked about late-term abortion, at least say late-term abortion, like President Obama…


MARTIN: Late-term abortion is not a medical term. So, I don’t know why you’re insisting he use it. It’s not a medical term. That is not a medical term.

RODRIGUEZ: Oh, you and I both know that’s like straight away ignoring a response that would actually activate Latinos, more Latinos to vote for Joe — for Vice President Joe Biden. If the Democratic Party would go back to 2008, President Barack Obama’s posture and stance and even presentation as it pertains to uniting the nation on so many issues, this election would be completely over, without a doubt.

MARTIN: Do you — you think President Trump’s united the nation?

RODRIGUEZ: No, I don’t think President Trump has united the nation and I don’t think President Trump has divided the nation. The question we have to ask ourselves is, why was he elected in the first place? Where did he come out of? Why did President Trump become president in 2016? What took place? And there were issues. I do believe that the Democratic Party swayed in the second term of a president who I absolutely love, President Obama, with one of the best first leads every, Michelle Obama, without a doubt. I do believe that at the end of his term, his second term, the Democratic Party was already swaying so radically to the left and neglected a populist in the electorate. Individuals who actually voted for him in 2008, President Obama, ended up flipping and voting for President Trump in 2016. And now the Democratic Party, in my humble opinion, has been hijacked. Socialism. I’m Latino. I’m Latino. (SPEAKING SPANISH) Venezuela. Cuba. Bolivia. Nicaragua. How in the world can you tell this Latino, who is pastoring and ministering to Hispanic immigrants, many of them undocumented, by the way, that I’m going to support an ideology or a party that substantiates socialism? Are you kidding me? Again, please, please, where is the — where is the Democratic Party of President Barack Obama 2008? That’s what I’m asking for.

MARTIN: So, you have identified two issues that you say are critical to your vote, or at least your support.


MARTIN: You’re not telling us who you’re going vote for. You have identified abortion. You have identified socialism.


MARTIN: And what’s the third?

RODRIGUEZ: Religious liberty. Religious liberty. You can’t — I live in California. I live in California. I applauded Gavin Newsom initially. I mean, again, I’m independent. So, I just want to call balls and strikes and be integral to me and my family and my faith. He was amazing in the beginning. Gavin Newsom was a rock star.


MARTIN: Dealing with COVID. You’re talking about in dealing with COVID.

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, dealing with COVID.


RODRIGUEZ: He was trying to preserve the economy while saving lives. And he did it in such a practical, pragmatic way. Even in the back of my mind, I went, this is pretty amazing. He has the potential of running for president and actually maybe winning, because he’s very in the center right now. This is a centrist movement. All of a sudden — this is what happens when you listen to your advisers that have a myopic way of thinking. All of a sudden, casinos, liquor stores, cannabis stores, which is weed stores, here in California, all of these things are open. Churches, you’re shut down, not just shut down. Quote — here’s the decree. You can’t meet in your home for a prayer/fellowship gathering, bible study. What? Are you kidding me? Even with masks? Even with social distancing in my own home? You’re telling me who I can meet with in my home?

MARTIN: To people of faith, people of particular faith practices, gathering is fundamental to faith. Gathering and prayer together, visiting together is fundamental to some people’s practice.


MARTIN: So, for some people, it is like eating. I mean, it is as essential as…


MARTIN: … a sort of sustenance as food, so granted that. But you’re saying you don’t see those as measures taken to preserve life?

RODRIGUEZ: Sure. Sure. There it is. I’m a practical person. I’m a Trekkie. So, I’m not a fundamentalist. I’m a faith and science guy. Yes, if everything else would line up, if there would be no exception. You can’t open up casinos and shut down churches. There are no conversations in casinos? None? People around don’t gather in casinos? You can’t discriminate. You can’t say casinos and liquor stores are fine, churches are not. And not only that. Look at the protests. And my family actually hosted a protest right after George Floyd’s murder in my home state of Pennsylvania. We were there. And many of my church members participated in peaceful protests, without a doubt, because I’m committed to righteousness and justice. But I can’t deny the fact that, post facto, even in surroundings around my church, there were protesters that were not wearing masks. And don’t give me the whole 93 percent were. I would love to know who statistically incorporated that study and how they did it. Show me the data, the methodology. No. A large number — some were wearing masks. A large number of individuals were not. You can’t permit protests where people are gathering, speaking, shouting, and then say, churches, you can’t gather. That’s religious liberty. I believe in religious liberty. I think religious liberty is the firewall against secular totalitarianism. And we have seen during COVID, not just in California, but in Michigan and other states, coincidentally driven by Democratic governors, who are infringing upon my God-given right to gather, which I do believe is essential, and worship. So I do — it’s life, not this idea of stopping a woman from having an abortion. That phraseology doesn’t line up. I have feminist daughters, Christian feminist daughters.

MARTIN: OK. So, let’s go back to that as a matter of policy. So, presumably, one of the policies that you agree with is appointing judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade, at least with the intention of overturning Roe v. Wade. What is your vision of the way America will be if that occurs?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, my inclination is to see judges appointed to the highest judicial branch or the highest judicial appointment in the land that look at the Constitution not as a fluid document, but look at the Constitution and adhere to and respect the original intent of that document. Some have argued it’s a sacred document. I don’t think — I’m not committed to idolatry. But it is an important document, indeed. So, I’m committed to that. I think Amy Coney is amazing in her commitment to preserving, to applying the letter of the law, rather than reading into it.


RODRIGUEZ: This idea of legislating from the bench…


MARTIN: The president’s made it clear, Amy Coney Barrett has — her entire sort of area of research is focused on overturning precedent. So, I don’t — I don’t see how you can say that the goal is to overturn Roe. It clearly is to overturn Roe v. Wade. The president said that’s the whole — his whole framework in selecting judges are people who are reliable conservatives. So, I’m just asking you the question, what is the vision of America after – – if Roe is overturned.


RODRIGUEZ: My vision of America would be to see every single life protected in and out of the womb. As it pertains to overturning Roe v. Wade, every single person who has come up to the bench of the Senate has argued that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. So, even though I am staunchly pro-life, from the womb to the tomb, from the moment of conception, I do believe that we can find a practical area where at least we can all come in agreement that late-term abortion is unacceptable, unless it’s a medical emergency, and, by medical, the death of the mother, right?

MARTIN: So should women be prosecuted for having an abortion?

RODRIGUEZ: No, of course not. Of course not. Of course not. And it’s not even about women being prosecuted. No, no, no. No, this idea that it’s anti-women is a misnomer. Quite the opposite. That’s why we’re seeing millennials, even millennial young ladies, who are lining up with an ethos that is more pro-life. And that’s Pew Research, not me.

MARTIN: So, Pastor Sam, obviously, there’s kind of a lot to talk about here. The president remarked about contracting COVID. He said, “I think this was a blessing from God that I caught it.” How do you respond to that?

RODRIGUEZ: That’s a Trumpism. Again, that’s a Trumpism. That’s President Trump being President Trump with his commentary, descriptors, nomenclatures and vocabulary and language that is germane to the reality of Donald J. Trump. I don’t see — I personally don’t see COVID as a gift from God. I understand what he’s saying, that it enables him to understand the reality, and, if it is a gift, to understand the suffering of your fellow man. I don’t know if it’s a gift. It may be a — a blessed burden would be the theological phrase. That may be a better application. But…

MARTIN: Do you think he understands the suffering of his fellow human beings?

RODRIGUEZ: I actually do. I mean, I know the man on a personal level. I have seen him become emotional. I have seen him express great concern, even angst and consternation regarding some of the social melees taking place in America. So, I do. I think it’s hard to understand President Trump unless you met him and know him personally. I wouldn’t support anyone — the depiction of President Trump in the media would be someone I would never support, in the media, in the mass media. But I know this man personally. He is a human being. He is emerging in his faith. He loves his family. He loves America. He wants people — he really is committed to one thing. Instead of seeing Americans survive, he wants them to thrive. And that’s what he’s fighting for. I don’t think he does it perfectly. No president does it perfectly. But I do think his heart is in the right place.

MARTIN: Pastor Sam Rodriguez, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.

About This Episode EXPAND

Susan Glasser and Peter Baker discuss their new book on former Secretary of State James Baker. Stella McCartney reflects on the future of fashion. Reverend Samuel Rodriguez discusses Roe v. Wade, the evangelical vote, and more.