(DES MOINES, Iowa) — Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson clashed with 2024 Republican candidates like former Vice President Mike Pence at The Family Leadership Summit in Iowa on Friday, with some candidates expressing frustration that Carlson didn’t focus the “fireside chats” on family issues which unite the crowd of evangelical Midwesterners, but instead, on topics like Ukraine and the 2020 election.
“I regret that we didn’t have very much time during my time on stage talking about the progress for life or issues in the family,” Pence told reporters after a tense encounter with the former Fox News host.
Asked by ABC News Correspondent MaryAlice Parks if Pence was surprised that he had to spend a majority of the discussion defending Ukraine, Pence said, “I’m really never surprised by Tucker Carlson.”
Carlson, who has advocated for ending aid to the war-torn country, grilled Pence on his support for defense spending in Ukraine. At one point, the former vice president was booed when he tried to explain his reasoning.
“I believe that it is in the interest of the United States of America, to continue to give the Ukrainian military the resources that they need to repel the Russian invasion and restore their sovereignty,” Pence said, to some disapproving audience members.
When Carlson alleged without evidence that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government is suppressing and arresting Christians, Pence explained how he asked that very question when he traveled to Ukraine two months after the invasion began and again last month.
“I asked the Christian leader in Kyiv if that was happening, and he assured me it was not. People were not being persecuted for their religious beliefs,” Pence said, shutting down Carlson’s attempt to interrupt him. “Now, take a break here. I know we disagree on this strongly, but I respect your right, your opinion on Ukraine. I trust you to respect my time.”
“The problem is you don’t accept my answer,” Pence added when Carlson continued. “I just told you that I asked the religious leader in Kyiv if it was happening. You asked me if I raised the issue, and I did.”
The meeting between Pence and Carlson was expected to be awkward given the former Fox News host’s comments about Pence’s tenure as vice president. Last August, he called the idea of Pence running for president “delusional” in an appearance on “The Ingraham Angle.” Host Laura Ingraham played a clip of Pence urging Republicans to stop attacking the FBI during a “Politics and Eggs” breakfast gathering at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, which Carlson commented on.
“What is Mike Pence doing in New Hampshire? I mean, if Mike Pence doesn’t have a summer house in New Hampshire, then he’s delusional. Mike Pence, very nice guy, or seems like a nice guy, but he spent four years getting bossed around by Donald Trump like a concubine,” Carlson said. “He’s not in a position to lead anything.”
Pence has also been highly critical of Carlson ever since Carlson falsely portrayed the events of the Jan. 6 attack in cherry picked clips from security footage handed to him exclusively by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, including falsely describing rioters as “sightseers” on the former host’s Fox News show.
“I was there at the Capitol, and let me assure you it was not, as some would have us believe, a matter of tourists peacefully enjoying our Capitol,” Pence said in March at the annual Gridiron Club dinner for journalists in Washington, before he launched his campaign for president. “Make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way.”
When Carlson asked Pence whether the events that took place on Jan. 6 were an “insurrection,” Pence said he’s never used that term but called it a “riot.”
Other presidential hopefuls were subjected to a similar grilling by the former Fox News host. Carlson asked Hutchinson right off the bat why he vetoed a bill in Arkansas that would have banned gender-affirming health care for minors — a law which has since been struck down by a federal judge as unconstitutional.
Hutchinson reaffirmed his belief that the bill as governor he vetoed went too far:
“If there would have been a bill that said that you should not ever have transgender surgery as a minor, I would sign that. … But this bill did go too far,” Hutchinson said. “So I side with parents.”
“Permanent change is one issue but also hormonal treatment is a different issue,” he added.
When Carlson took issue with Hutchinson using the word “treatment,” Hutchinson replied, “I hope that we’ll be able to talk about some issues.”
“This is one of the biggest issues in the country, and I think every person in this room would agree,” Carlson replied, provoking applause. “It is a central issue.”
Speaking to reporters after his chat, Hutchinson said he maintains a consistent message he believes in, no matter the audience.
“Anytime you go against the grain a little bit to catch his audience’s off guard,” he said. “To me that’s refreshing that you actually see a candidate that thinks through it from a constitutional standpoint, from a parent’s standpoint, from a consistency standpoint, from a limited government standpoint, and I hope that they see that I think there’s some room for disagreement.”
“There’s obviously some room for disagreement, and so I think that I gained respect through that presentation — even with a difficult interviewer,” he added.
Twice during the chat, Hutchinson told Carlson to stop interrupting him. Another tense moment came when Carlson asked, “How many COVID shots did you take, and how do you feel about it now in retrospect?”
“How many COVID shots did you take?” Hutchinson quipped back.
“Zero,” Carlson said to applause. “I can see you recoiled when I asked you that question.”
Carlson has repeatedly promoted false claims concerning the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.
Hutchinson defended how he signed a law forbidding the federal government from mandating government employees take the vaccine in Arkansas, and repeated that, in his view, parents shouldn’t be told whether they can — or can’t — vaccinate their child.
During the summit, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed HF 732, ceasing all abortions after six weeks. The measure is raising alarms among Democrats and abortion rights supporters who argue the majority of Iowans don’t agree with the legislation passed this week in a special session.
The popular governor was applauded by the audience as she signed the bill, but her neutrality in the primaries has become a sticking point for former President Donald Trump, who did not attend the summit, citing scheduling conflicts. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose remarks capped off the festivities Friday evening, called Trump’s rebuke of Reynolds a “misstep.”
Other Iowa summit attendees included Sen. Tim Scott, S.C., former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.
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