CNN's Carol Costello spent her entire interview with the CPAC chairman badgering him about the inclusion of gay Republicans in the conference. A few minutes before, Costello had led off the 9 a.m. hour of Newsroom touting GOP Senator Rob Portman (Ohio) and his newfound support for gay marriage.
"Will CPAC ever change its position and allow gay Republicans to sit at the table?" she pressed the chair of the American Conservative Union, Al Cardenas. "Were there gay people included in those panel discussions?" she followed up.
Costello probably wouldn't show as much interest on another CPAC topic, but for a GLAAD-approved network like CNN gay marriage is paramount. Costello wouldn't drop the subject.
"Will we one day see at CPAC, maybe next time around, a gay speaker speaking in a prominent place and having time to talk to the crowd there?" she pestered Cardenas. He explained that speakers aren't chosen because of their sexual preference, adding, "There are a lot of gay activists who are here, who registered and who are participating at CPAC."
Costello wouldn't let the topic die: "They didn't have a prominent role on stage. They didn't have a prominent speaking role, and a lot of people who had prominent speaking roles were actually anti-gay marriage. Not supportive of the gay community."
Cardenas had to explain himself once again:
"You can't say that your sexual preference ought to be the guiding light as to who gets up on the podium and speaks to our audience. The factors that guide who speaks to the audience are those who have contributed to the conservative movement at the national stage."
A transcript of the interview, which aired on CNN Newsroom on March 15 at 9:10 a.m. EDT, is as follows:
CAROL COSTELLO: Some of the biggest stars of the Republican Party will speak at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. This hour, former presidential candidate Paul Ryan will speak. Then NRA executive VP Wayne LaPierre, and later today, Rick Santorum will take the stage. Mitt Romney will also speak this afternoon. CPAC is the largest GOP gathering of its kind, and an opportunity to refine the party's message. Al Cardenas joins us now from National Harbor, Maryland. He's the chairman of the American Conservative Union and spoke at the conference yesterday. Welcome, Al.
AL CARDENAS, chairman, American Conservative Union: Hey thank you, Carol. Great to be with you, and great to have CNN at our conference.
COSTELLO: Oh, well we're glad to have you. We're glad you're speaking with us this morning. Al, some conservatives have talked about being more inclusive, and yet gay Republican groups like GOProud aren't included in CPAC. As you know, Rob Portman and Dick Cheney have now come out in support of same-sex marriage. So will the GOP ever change its position? Will CPAC ever change its position and allow gay Republicans to sit at the table?
CARDENAS: Look, there are a few ground rules here at CPAC. One, we discuss all of our serious subjects with civility. We love and respect each other, and we have had two panels yesterday, almost back to back. We had a panel hosted by our friends at the Conservative Enterprise Institute involving advocates of the gay movement, talking about gay marriage, and at the same time we had another panel that was arguing in favor for traditional marriage and values. And so –
COSTELLO: Were there gay people included in those panel discussions?
CARDENAS: Of course. Of course. The executive director of GOProud was in that panel. And so here at CPAC, we've had ample conversations on the issues of the day. And there is a good, common denominator and glue in terms of our unity on fiscal issues. We've allowed those who have various different opinions on social issues to participate. And actually there are a few differences on foreign policy, and what our role in the world should be. And there are panels about that. Look, CPAC is a great ground for discussion. We want our 55 percent of the people who are here, who are under the age of 25, we want them fully informed. And want them to draw their own conclusions as to what their beliefs are. And that's what this is all about.
COSTELLO: So were people attending CPAC respective to a change in thinking about gay Americans in the country? Because if you look at the polls, and Quinnipiac put out the latest ones, only 23 percent of Republicans believe same-sex marriage should be.
CARDENAS: Well look, every individual has to make up their own minds on the subject. I think the issue sometimes is played unfairly. I believe most people here are God-loving Americans who love their fellow men and women regardless of their sexual preferences. At the same time, some are strong advocates of the traditional marriage that they firmly believe in, based on their spiritual and religious beliefs. And there are three types of people here. The second type are those who feel that way, but think that the other folks should have an equal seat at the table and then there are folks who are very strong advocates, aggressive advocates for gay marriage. But there are a lot of issues involving the gay community other than marriage.
COSTELLO: True. That's very true. Will we one day see at CPAC, maybe next time around, a gay speaker speaking in a prominent place and having time to talk to the crowd there?
CARDENAS: Absolutely. We – you know, that has happened in the past as well. We've had gay advocates, we've had gay speakers in the past, we had a gay advocate at the panel. Listen, we don't invite people to the podium or exclude them based under sexual preference. We have a set of values, and those set of values are explained at the conference through various speakers. But we don't exclude anyone from participating. We invite anyone, regardless of their sexual preference to participate. There are a lot of gay activists who are here, who registered and who are participating at CPAC –
COSTELLO: They didn't have a prominent role on stage. They didn't have a prominent speaking role, and a lot of people who had prominent speaking roles were actually anti-gay marriage. Not supportive of the gay community.
CARDENAS: Wait a minute. People – people – we don't – you know, we don't select people on that basis. We select people (Unintelligible) based to their contributions to the country. There isn't a conservative gay Senator, member of Congress, that I could have invited. There isn't a gay governor that adheres to conservative values we could invite. If there were, we'd obviously consider that. You can't say that your sexual preference ought to be the guiding light as to who gets up on the podium and speaks to our audience. The factors that guide who speaks to the audience are those who have contributed to the conservative movement at the national stage.