WASHINGTON – Several members of President Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory group are meeting Thursday and holding a news conference with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – who is normally a public adversary of conservative evangelicals – to create a united public front in support of protecting “dreamers” from deportation.
About a half-dozen evangelical leaders are in the meeting and the 2 p.m. ET conference, the latter which will be broadcast on Pelosi’s website. They are part of Trump’s loosely-comprised, unofficial faith advisory group, and most were also part of a smaller evangelical group that advised Trump during his campaign.
They include: the Rev. Samuel Rodriquez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the conference; Sergio De La Mora, founding pastor of Cornerstone Church of San Diego and head of the conference’s megachurch association; Bishop Harry Jackson, a Pentecostal leader based in Maryland; and Jay Strack, a leadership speaker and Florida pastor.
Johnnie Moore, an unofficial spokesman for Trump’s evangelical advisory group – the only known regular pipeline of religion feedback into the White House – said the group was intentionally small Thursday but that the “majority” of the conservative evangelicals who speak to the administration agree that a permanent legal solution must be found for the “dreamers,” who could face deportation.
Moore, Rodriguez and other members have been saying since before the election that all along they have advocated behind the scenes with the Trump administration for dreamers and for a comprehensive immigration reform. Some took credit in a Washington Post article last fall for Trump’s decision to build in a six-month delay on rescinding DACA.
On Thursday, Moore wouldn’t repeat that claim – of credit – and emphasized that the responsibility for a dreamer solution lies with Congress, not Trump. While the Trump administration has sent mixed messages about his prioritizing of a DACA solution, the evangelical advisers said Thursday that the onus is on Congress, and that that’s where they have been making their rounds.
“Nearly every Christian leader, everyone is very concerned about making sure there is a permanent decision for dreamers, and those of us close to the administration believe that the president is speaking with sincerity when he says he wants a bill that protects dreamers. We don’t have any questions about his point of view,” Moore said.
The meeting was believed to be the first of its kind between the Democratic leader and Trump’s conservative faith advisers in public. Evangelical leaders in general, and Latino ones in particular, face growing pressure within their congregations to clarify their association with and advocacy for Trump, who has offered mixed-messages about immigration. Some 20 percent of American Latinos consider themselves evangelical, according to Pew.
Evangelical leaders at the meetings Thursday have met before with Pelosi’s office, Moore said, and have in recent days and weeks met with dozens of members of Congress to push for DACA reform.
“Every time they point to the White House, they are deflecting responsibility. He has said to send him something. We are taking the president at his word that if that something takes into consideration security, he will sign it,” he said.
Trump’s election has let loose bitter divisions among American evangelicals, many of whom who are pleased with his emphasis on religious freedom protections for religious conservatives and his public opposition to abortion, but who are deeply split on how he has spoken about race, poverty and immigration. One member quit very publicly after Trump wavered publicly last year in condemning white supremacist marchers in Charlottevsille.
Moore said he wasn’t aware of any members who had threatened or considered leaving the advisory group if Trump didn’t do more for dreamers.
“We’re not responsible for if that advice is taken – our job is if we gave it. We are very happy in many ways with the president as it relates to lots of issues, but as advisers it’s our job to express our points of view, and they vary,” Moore said. “On this issue, certainly the vast majority of evangelicals at the White House, this is something they have a strong opinion about.”