When U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Ken Buck agreed to meet with host David Gregory on Meet The Press Sunday, you knew it might be interesting.
Most people probably had no idea it would be this interesting, though. While neither candidate distinguished himself, Buck certainly did worse than Bennet, seeming to go out of his way to make things worse for himself as he tries to court moderate and unaffiliated voters in an increasingly tight race.
Perhaps most controversially, he told a national television audience that he considered being gay similar to being alcoholic.
MR. GREGORY: And Mr. Buck I want to start with you. The issue of gays in our country, in a debate last month you expressed your support for “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which we talked about with Mr. Gibbs, [White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who was on the show earlier] and you alluded to lifestyle choices. Do you believe that being gay is a choice?
MR. BUCK: I do.
MR. GREGORY: Based on what?
MR. BUCK: Based on what?
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. BUCK: Well…
MR. GREGORY: Why do you believe that?
MR. BUCK: Well, I guess you can, you can choose who your partner is.
MR. GREGORY: You don’t think it’s something that’s determined at birth?
MR. BUCK: I, I, I think that birth has an influence over like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you, you have a choice.
To see a complete transcript, or to watch the video, click here.
The backlash was immediate.
“This is yet another in a long line of examples showing that Ken Buck is out of touch with the majority of Coloradans,” said One Colorado Executive Director Brad Clark. “Instead of focusing on common values of respect for all people, Buck is spewing divisive, extreme rhetoric. His claim that homosexuality is a choice is yet another example of his extreme views falling out of step with everyday Coloradans.”
“Mr. Buck’s ill-informed views are not only factually inaccurate, but they are extremely dangerous,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “In the past six weeks a number of teenagers have taken their own lives after being the victims of anti-gay bullying and harassment. When public figures like Mr. Buck make statements like he did today, kids struggling with their identities question their self-worth and other kids justify bullying. Ken Buck must correct his remarks now.”
Gregory also asked Buck about the rape case he refused to prosecute in 2006 — a case that become a campaign issue last Monday when the Colorado Independent interviewed the alleged victim in the case.
MR. GREGORY: Mr. Buck, I want to ask you about women who are taking a hard look at this race and deciding how they’re going to make up their minds, and some issues that have come up, controversial issues, for you. You’ve taken a hard line position on abortion, saying you’d vote for a ban even if it includes rape and incest. During the primary campaign, you said that voters should vote for you because you don’t wear high heels. And then there was an issue that’s gotten a lot of attention, as a district attorney, about a 2006 date rape case. You declined to prosecute. You told the Greeley Tribune, “A jury could very well conclude that this was a case of buyer’s remorse,” after you looked at the circumstances of the case and decided not to prosecute. A lot of people thought that was an insensitive remark. The woman who was involved in this case has been critical of you, saying that your tone was one of, in essence, attacking her. It was not the first time that your judgment or your ethics as a lawyer has been questioned. And I wonder whether you regret using those words, and whether you think women should give some weight to those issues in deciding whether to vote for you.
MR. BUCK: I, I, I think women as well as men are concerned about jobs and the economy and spending and, and other issues. They’re concerned that when their kids graduate from college they have an economy and they have a future in this country and they, they have the same opportunity that we’ve had and our grandparents have had. But I’d like to talk about a couple of those issues, if I can…
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. BUCK: …to clarify some things.
MR. GREGORY: OK.
MR. BUCK: Rape case came into our office, it was reviewed by an attorney with — a prosecutor with 30 years prosecutorial experience who’s now on the Colorado Court of Appeals. He declined to prosecute. Two female chief deputies reviewed the case, talked to witnesses, they, they declined to prosecute. The case went to another chief deputy who had handled many of the high-profile rape cases in the, in the Denver metro area. He declined to prosecute. I met with this young lady, explained the circumstances. I then sent the case to the Boulder County district attorney’s office for, for Boulder County because they had a lot of experience with date rape as a result of the University of Colorado being in that county. They declined to prosecute and told me that the case couldn’t be prosecuted. It was after this – -the young lady made this case public that I had to explain to the newspaper exactly what …
MR. GREGORY: But do you regret the way you either talked to her or talked about the case?
MR. BUCK: I don’t regret the way I talked to her. I think, I think the — it is important that a prosecutor approach a victim with, with a certain amount of reality, and that’s what I tried to do with this victim. I didn’t blame her at all.
MR. GREGORY: Right. But what about what you told the Greeley Tribune?
MR. BUCK: What I told the Greeley Tribune, I gave them five or six reasons why I thought a jury could decline this case.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BUCK: One of the reasons was the fact that she had regretted this relationship, and she had buyer’s remorse as a result of the relationship that she had with this young man.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BUCK: That is, that is something that I think when, when someone decides to make a case public, the public has to understand why.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, is this an issue?
SEN. BENNET: I just — I, I do think it’s an issue. Look, I have a lot of sympathy for the victim in this case. He just used the language again, buyer’s remorse, and as the father of three little girls … I just think that’s the wrong way to talk about this kind of set of circumstances, especially when you’re a prosecutor.
Buck, who defeated former Colorado Lt. Governor Jane Norton in the primary largely because of strong Tea Party support, was asked about the role of the Tea Party in Colorado and national politics.
MR. GREGORY: Mr. Buck, let me start with you because you do have Tea Party backing. The Tea Party is a major movement in this midterm campaign, whether it’s Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O’Donnell getting a lot of headlines in Delaware. And the question is whether the Tea Party represents an extreme, insurgent political force, or whether it’s a legitimate political movement. What do you say?
MR. BUCK: I, I think it’s a legitimate political movement. I think what we’re talking about are folks that are frustrated that we are spending so much money in Washington, D.C., and they’re every bit as frustrated with the Republicans as they are with the Democrats, because the Republicans are every bit as much to blame for the mess that we’re in as the Democrats. And, and that frustration has exhibited itself in a lot of energy. Folks are, are not going to try to send the same type of Republican to Washington, D.C., that they’ve sent in the past. And so I think it is a lot more mainstream than it has been portrayed.
MR. GREGORY: But, you know, it’s — is that point, there are a lot of folks who, supported by the Tea Party, in the Tea Party, say, `Oh, there’s a mainstream movement.’ But there are others who say it is anything but. As a matter of fact, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights and the NAACP are releasing a report this coming week. And here it is, I’ll show it on the screen. The “Tea Party Nationalism, a critical examination of the Tea Party movement and the size, scope and focus of its national factions.” And there are some serious charges that I want you to respond to. ‘The result of this study contravenes many of the Tea Party’s self-invented myths, particularly their sole concentration on budget deficits, taxes, and the power of the federal government. Instead, this report found Tea Party ranks to be permeated with concerns about race and national identity and other so-called social issues … Tea party organization have given platforms to anti-Semites, racists and bigots. Further, hard-core white nationalists have been attracted to these protests, looking for potential recruits and hoping to push these (white) protesters toward a more self-conscious and ideological white supremacy.’ If you’re senator, do you think these elements in the Tea Party need to be dealt with and need to be rebuffed?
MR. BUCK: Absolutely. First of all, I haven’t seen it. I’ve been to over 800 events in Colorado in, in the last 20 months. I have not seen that. And, and I find it offensive that folks would try to label the Tea Party in that way. It’s just not true in Colorado. I don’t know if it’s true in other states, I haven’t been to the other states. But I can tell you that if there are people that hold those views, they are quickly asked to leave meetings. I have not seen them in, in meetings.
Then, turning to Bennet:
MR. GREGORY: Is he a political opportunist?
SEN. BENNET: I think absolutely. I mean, I think it’s very clear that he ran a primary election saying that he would privatize Social Security, that he would demolish the Department of Education, that the American people need to wean themselves off of student loans, that he supported the Personhood Amendment, pro-life in all cases except for — in cases of rape and incest. He’s not changed his position on that. And in the general election, even as recently as [Saturday], he said, ‘Well, I, I don’t, I don’t support abolishing the Department of Education, but I wouldn’t oppose it if it came up for a vote.’ That’s not the kind of straight talk that people in Colorado want.
And, Buck on tax cuts:
MR. GREGORY: Well, let me ask you on that point, do you agree with Republican leaders who say that tax cuts do not have to be paid for?
MR. BUCK: No, I don’t. I, I think we’ve got to find spending cuts. And I don’t know what you’re talking about in terms of tax cuts.
MR. GREGORY: Well, extending — extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the highest earners. The president says it all the time; it would cost an extra $700 billion. Should those be paid for if the — if, if Republicans like you want to cut that deficit, bring it in balance, do you then have to pay for the tax cuts you want to extend?
MR. BUCK: Well, first, David, where are the families going to pay for the money that they’ve got to send the federal government? That’s, that’s the bigger question to me.