White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is contesting a report President Trump made an highly criticized joke Vice President Mike Pence “wants to hang” all gay people.
The administration top’s spokesperson issued a statement to the Washington Blade and other media outlets denying Trump made the joke, which was reported in a New Yorker profile piece about Pence and his ties to the corporate right, including the Koch brothers.
“From start to finish the article relied on fiction rather than facts,” Sanders said. “The president has the highest level of respect for the vice president, and for his deeply held faith. The suggestion that he would make such outrageous remarks is offensive and untrue. The anecdote was meant to divide, not unite and is completely false.”
Sanders’ statement echoes comments made to the Blade by Pence spokesperson Alysssa Farah, who pushed back against the New Yorker piece without explicitly denying Trump made the joke.
“Articles like this are why the American people have lost so much faith in the press,” Farah said. “The New Yorker piece is filled with unsubstantiated, unsourced claims that are untrue and offensive.”
A New Yorker profile piece on Pence reported Trump made the remarks during a private meeting between the two and a legal scholar. When the discussion turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy — he wants to hang them all!”
The joke makes light of Pence’s long anti-LGBT history, including support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage nationwide as well as opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, hate crimes legislation and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But Pence most famously signed a religious freedom law as Indiana governor enabling anti-LGBT discrimination before being forced to sign a “fix” under pressure from the LGBT community and business leaders.
Despite push back from the Trump administration, the New Yorker is standing by its article, which asserts Trump made the joke based on accounts of two other people in the room.
“The vice president’s press office declined to participate in this story for months, after multiple requests for interviews, comment, and fact-checking,” a New Yorker spokesperson said to Politico.
“We heard from the press office only after the piece had closed, late Thursday,” the statement continued. “In the course of fact-checking this piece, we talked to more than sixty people to confirm the reporting contained therein, including senior White House officials, a senior member of the vice president’s office, the RGA, Rep. Elijah Cummings and multiple people who were in the room when President Trump joked that Vice-President Pence ‘wants to hang’ gay people. We stand by the story.”