(WASHINGTON) — As Republicans gathered Friday for Day 2 of the Iowa State Fair, news broke in Washington that the U.S. attorney investigating Hunter Biden was being elevated to special counsel.
Several candidates in the 2024 GOP field welcomed the development, with former Vice President Mike Pence telling reporters it’s “about time.” Others said they still didn’t believe the investigation would be independent.
Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis faced an unfriendly reception at his first stop of the day, when protesters with cowbells interrupted the event.
And in West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin is once again flirting with the idea of leaving the Democratic Party.
Here’s what to know from the trail on Friday.
2024 candidates react to Hunter Biden special counsel
Pence was one of the first candidates to react to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s announcement that U.S. Attorney David Weiss was being appointed as special counsel in his investigation of President Joe Biden’s son.
“I’ll be honest with you, I can’t relate to what his son was doing when he was vice president,” Pence told ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott. “When I was vice president, my son was flying an F-35 in the Marine Corps defending this country.”
Pence continued, “But I think it’s about time that we saw the appointment of a special counsel to get to the bottom of not only what Hunter Biden was doing, but what the Biden family was doing. The American people deserve answers and I welcome it.”
Miami Mayor Frances Suarez said he wasn’t surprised.
“Well, I’m not shocked. Not shocked by that at all,” Suarez said. “I think that there’s a perception among Republicans that I talked to that there’s a two-tier system [of justice]. So I think it’s gonna be welcomed.”
But other candidates were skeptical and continued to suggest the Justice Department has been politically weaponized.
Former President Donald Trump wasn’t in Iowa, but a spokesperson for his campaign claimed that if the special counsel is “truly independent,” he will “quickly conclude” that the Bidens and others should face “required consequences.”
Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley told Fox News she didn’t “trust” the special counsel appointment.
“I don’t trust it. I don’t think the American people trust it. I don’t think the American people trust the Department of Justice,” Haley said.
DeSantis told reporters he wasn’t “confident” the investigation would include corruption issues alleged by many in the GOP.
“It seems to me they’re going to find a way to give him some type of soft-glove treatment,” he said.
Democrat Marianne Williamson, who had previously declined to make Hunter Biden a campaign issue, weighed in with a statement saying it’s “up to the American people to decide how this complication impacts their view of President Biden’s candidacy and whether it’s a further reason to move on.”
DeSantis drowned out by protesters
Two women ringing cowbells and shouting through a megaphone interrupted DeSantis as he campaigned at Freedom Rock, a monument honoring veterans in Menlo, Iowa
The women, Heather and Kara Ryan, attempted to drown out DeSantis with chants like “Ron De-Fascist” and “Go Back to Florida.” Donned in “B****** Get Stuff Done” shirts, Heather Ryan told ABC News afterward that they belonged to an Iowa-based progressive group by the same name.
In a particularly tense moment, a member of DeSantis’ super PAC swatted the megaphone Heather Ryan was shouting through.
DeSantis criticized the women in his comments, saying they didn’t “respect veterans.”
-ABC’s Hannah Demissie, Will McDuffie and Isabella Murray
Doug Burgum says RNC rules should apply to Trump, too
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has resisted discussing Trump during his campaign. But he made an exception on Friday to disagree with the Republican National Committee potentially offering Trump a waiver to be on the debate stage if he doesn’t sign the loyalty pledge.
“These are all clubhouse rules. If they are clubhouse rules, they ought to apply to everybody,” Burgum told reporters.
The loyalty pledge is one requirement to get on the RNC’s debate stage later this month. Trump said earlier this week that he would not sign it, and has insinuated he might skip the first two debates.
-ABC’s Kelsey Walsh
Pence confronts Jan. 6 supporters and opponents
Pence has received a mixed reaction in Iowa, with some calling him a “traitor” and others commending him for his actions on Jan. 6, 2021.
During his turn on the soapbox Thursday, Pence was asked by one audience member why he committed treason on Jan. 6 — a question that caused another in the crowd to yell, “shut the f*** up.”
But Pence said it was a fair question and defended his actions that day.
“And I’ll always believe by God’s grace, I did my duty that day. I truly believe it,” Pence said.
Asked by ABC News on Friday if the polar opposite reactions represented a Republican Party at a crossroads, Pence said he honestly didn’t know.
“I’ve been deeply moved by the people who have expressed their appreciation for my long-conservative career and position I took that fateful day,” he said. “I understand that after two-and-a-half years that my former running mate has been telling people things that aren’t so, I welcome the opportunity … I kept my oath to the United States and I’m confident that in time, people that didn’t understand it then, may not understand it now, will come around and understand that we always kept our promises to the American people.”
-ABC’s Rachel Scott, Libby Cathey and Ben Siegel
Manchin thinking ‘seriously’ about becoming independent
The moderate Democrat said he’s “absolutely” thought about becoming an independent during a radio interview with a West Virginia’s “Talkline” radio host Hoppy Kercheval.
“I’m thinking seriously what’s the best for me,” Manchin said. “I have to have peace of mind, basically. The brand has become so bad. The ‘D’ brand and ‘R’ brand … You’ve heard me say a million times I’m not a Washington Democrat. But I’ve got a lot of friends who aren’t Washington Republicans, either.”
Manchin is up for reelection next year in the increasingly conservative state. If he did switch parties, he’d be following in the footsteps of Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who switched her registration from Democrat to independent late last year.
“When I get ready to make a decision, I’ll come see you,” Manchin told Kercheval.
-ABC’s Kelsey Walsh
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