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Hispanic evangelical leader warns: No guarantee Donald Trump’s video message will air at his conference

Hispanic evangelical leader warns: No guarantee Donald Trump’s video message will air at his conference

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Presumed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is sending a videotaped message to be played at an annual conference of the nation's largest Hispanic evangelical group. But there's no guarantee that the message will be aired.

Samuel Rodriguez, leader of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said late Tuesday that he will only air the presidential candidate's video greeting if he thinks it's conciliatory and respectful to Latinos and the nation's immigrant community.

"I will personally get the video and scrutinize it, of course," Rodriguez said in a phone interview.

Bloomberg News first reported Tuesday that Trump planned to send the videotaped message to NHCLC's "Latin Leaders Fest" scheduled for this weekend in Anaheim. But Rodriguez took issue with the news organization's reporting, saying it made it seem that just because Trump was sending the video it would be aired.

"There are no assurances and no guarantees," he said.

One of the nation's most prominent Latino religious figures, Rodriguez has been angered this past year by Trump's talk about Mexican immigrants. He has never spoken with or met Trump or any of his campaign aides and that he was only told by his own aides on Tuesday that the campaign planned to send the video.

"I'm not endorsing Donald Trump, I'm actually very opposed to his rhetoric on most issues," Rodriguez said. "At the top of the list, his rhetoric on immigrants, on immigration, is unacceptable. But we are who we are -- the Latino evangelical movement -- and we have a gathering of the most influential Latino evangelicals in the country."

As a religious leader and the leader of a major nonprofit religious organization, Rodriguez cannot formally endorse a candidate even if he wanted to. But NHCLC has hosted presidential forums in the past, for the first time in 2008 with then-Sen. Barack Obama.

"I'm a pastor so I want to hear you out," he said. "But I want to be able to speak to you and see if there's a chance to change your heart and mind. I want Donald Trump to realize that the vast majority of immigrants in this country are god-fearing, hard working, amazing individuals. It's impossible to make America great again without immigrants."

Any overture by Trump to Hispanics is notable given the animosity he's created in the past year. And yet, outreach to Hispanic evangelicals is possibly the easiest way to do so. Evangelicals of any sort are socially conservative and more likely to vote for Republican candidates.

A majority of Hispanics are Catholic -- 55 percent -- while about 16 percent are evangelicals, according to the Pew Research Center.

In an interview with The Washington Post ahead of last year's NHCLC conference, Rodriguez warned GOP presidential candidates that immigration “is the Jordan that Republicans must cross in order to step into the promised land of the electorate." That's a biblical reference to the river the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land.

"The rhetoric throughout the course of the campaign needs to be very nuanced, very affirming of the Latino community," Rodriguez said in the interview.

But since last year's conference, "The concerns have increased exponentially," Rodriguez said Tuesday night. "If [Trump] is the presumed nominee, we do want to provide space for both sides of the aisle even if we're disappointed by the rhetoric coming out of both sides of the aisle."

Trump campaign aides didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on their plans to send the video message.

Rodriguez said he has extended invitations to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) -- the two rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination -- to address his conference, but that he hasn't heard from either campaign.

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