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President Trump’s nominee for secretary of state repeatedly wouldn’t say Thursday if he thought being gay was a “perversion.”

The tense moment came during Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearings, when Democratic Senator Corey Booker confronted the nominee about his past statements and appearances on programs that were anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT.

“You said in a speech that, warning an American that endorses a perversion and calls it alternative lifestyle, those are your words. Is being gay a perversion?” Booker asked.

“Senator, when I was a politician, I had a very clear view on whether it was appropriate for two same-sex persons to marry. I stand by that,” Pompeo said.

“You do not believe it’s appropriate for two gay people to marry?” Booker asked.

“Senator, I continue to hold that view. It’s the same view…” Pompeo replied before Booker cut him off.

In a 2015 speech at a church, Pompeo mused that in America, people “worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism and endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.”

“Do you believe that gay sex is a perversion, yes or no? Yes or no, sir, do you believe gay sex is a perversion? It’s what you said here in one of your speeches. Yes or no, do you believe gay sex is a perversion?” Booker asked.

“Senator, I’m going to give you the same answer I gave you previously. My respect for every individual regardless of sexual orientation is the same,” Pompeo said.

Booker began his questioning with comments Pompeo made when he was a congressman, after the 2013 Boston marathon bombing.

Pompeo had said Muslim-American leaders were “potentially complicit” in terrorist attacks if they were silent. Numerous Muslim-American leaders did indeed condemn the attack.

“Do you think that Muslim American who is serve in our country, who serve in the military and state department, their failure to speak up, are they complicit in terrorist attacks?” Booker asked.

“Each and every human has an obligation to push back against against this violence, from every faith,” Pompeo said, avoiding the precise question.

“You don’t create a special class of people in this country based upon their religion that have a special obligation to condemn terrorist attacks?” Booker asked.

“For certain places, for certain forms of violence, there are certain [people] who are better positioned, folks who are credible, more trust worthy… have a more shared experience… When it comes to making sure that we don’t have terrorist brewing in places where Muslims congregate, there’s a special place, right?” Pompeo said.

While Muslim-American leaders regularly and routinely condemn acts of terrorism, many Muslim-Americans also believe that there should not be an expectation for them — members of a religion of 1.6 billion people — to address the violent acts of a few.

Booker also questioned Pompeo’s relationship with anti-Muslim figures such as Frank Gaffeney and Bridgette Gabriel. Gaffney, an ex-Pentagon official, furthered conspiracy theories that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the US government, society, and even possibly the presidency. Pompeo has appeared on Gaffney’s radio program nearly 20 times.

Booker — using Pompeo’s words against him about people needing to speak out about dangers to society — asked if Pompeo has spoken up against Gaffney’s conspiracies or anti-Muslim beliefs, which Booker described as “violative of the American Constitution.”

“Senator, my record on this is unambiguous,” Pompeo said. Booker then asked if he also knew Gabriel, one of the most influential anti-Muslim leaders in America who once said “every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim.”

“Someone [Gabriel] who runs an organization that has been considered a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Did you ever call her out for remarks that are hateful and bigoted?” Booker asked of his relationship with her and her organization.

“Senator, I couldn’t tell you, I don’t recall each statement I’ve made over 54 years,” Pompeo.

“Okay, I believe this special obligation that you talk about for Americans to condemn things that are attacking our constitution, our ideals, would obligate you in your own
definition to speak out,” Booker said.

Talal Ansari is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 4FEE 894C 8088 7E08 E170 A515 2801 7CC6 95D3 11C2

Contact Talal Ansari at talal.ansari@buzzfeed.com.

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