MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A year ago, Reverend Samuel Rodriguez made headlines and might have made history when he was invited as a Latino evangelical to pray at President Trump's inauguration ceremony. Reverend Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and has remained in close contact with President Trump over this past year. But they've also parted ways on several issues, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program. President Trump's decision to end it and the Democrats' determination to protect people already enrolled is tied to the current government shutdown. Reverend Rodriguez was in Washington advocating for a deal on DACA this past week right before the shutdown, so we asked him to come by. And I asked him what he hoped to accomplish in Washington.
SAMUEL RODRIGUEZ: I want to speak both to the White House and Congress and elevate the idea that we can't play politics with 800,000 young men and women. It is morally reprehensible. For goodness sake, enough is enough. They can't be bargaining chips in a deal. I mean, these kids lost their status. And they're living in perpetual limbo. They were raised here. They weren't brought here because they voted, you know, I want to come to America. It's morally reprehensible to even have them in this current state.
MARTIN: So let's go back to a year ago, when you were 1 of 5 ministers to offer prayer at the inauguration ceremony. As you know, this was controversial because there are a number of celebrities, for example, who declined what traditionally has been considered an honor. People asked you at the time, you know, this is a candidate - as a candidate had offered some very hard-line rhetoric on immigration. And you said that you hoped that you could be that bridge. Have you been that bridge? And what is overall your assessment of this first year of this administration?
RODRIGUEZ: Two components there. One, because I had served previously with President Obama - and George W. Bush, for that matter - I saw it as a continuum. Second, I'm an evangelical pastor. I love Jesus. And for me to have an opportunity to lift up the name of Jesus on one of the most powerful stages on the planet, it goes way beyond Trump and Obama and Bush. To me, it's about Jesus.
MARTIN: Do you feel that you have the president's ear?
RODRIGUEZ: He has given me access. He has heard me out even when I have disagreed on certain policy items. I have seen a pivot and a change as it pertains to descriptors and nomenclatures and some of the verbiage and rhetoric. But to hear him say on immigration a couple of weeks ago the love agenda, I want to advance a love agenda. Didn't that surprise...
MARTIN: Which was followed by language referring to certain countries in a very vulgar way.
RODRIGUEZ: And I stated without any hesitation my angst about that, of course.
MARTIN: You did. You issued a statement decrying that vulgar language. So which is the real Donald Trump?
RODRIGUEZ: I'm not with him 24/7, right? But when I sit down with this man, I have a sense of, I want to do the right thing. Is he the most polished, nuanced politician in American history? Absolutely not. Does he really believe that, via the conduit of his leadership, he can make America better? He really believes that.
MARTIN: Right around the time of your prayer at the inauguration, you were asked by another journalist what you would say to a member of your congregation whose mother or father was deported, right? And you said, that's not going to happen. Since that time, Noe Carias, us who was arrested by immigration officials because they said he was deportable - married to an American citizen, two young children and a minister like yourself - as being...
RODRIGUEZ: And my denomination. And without violating my ethical code of confidentiality when that took place, certain calls were made by certain people to a certain place.
MARTIN: So you're in a position to get special favors for people that you particularly care about because of your access?
RODRIGUEZ: No, not favor. No, no. I'm in a position to speak truth to power. I have access to - not to grant special favor but to protect the human dignity and the image of God in every single American and every single human being, including immigrants.
MARTIN: But for the 800,000 people who are now vulnerable, these 800,000 young people...
RODRIGUEZ: I'm advocating for them. It would be morally reprehensible if one of these kids would be deported.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, what kind of conversation do you think you and I are going to have a year from now?
RODRIGUEZ: I think the conversation will probably be, first of all, DACA passed. These kids are now legalized. They're legal. They're here. They're going to thrive in America. Second, there's a path to comprehensive immigration reform. Hopefully, that will pass. But I think we're going to be surprised with some sort of commission or entity that will address the issue of racial strife and discord, something on racial reconciliation and healing. If it's not through the executive branch, maybe the legislative branch. But something's going to happen nationally to have a conversation on racial healing and reconciliation. It has to take place.
MARTIN: That's Reverend Samuel Rodriguez. He's president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. And he was kind of to join us here in Washington, D.C. Reverend Rodriguez, thank you for speaking with us once again.
RODRIGUEZ: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.