Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence waits for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. 
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

Pence’s Irish trip becomes needlessly controversial (again)

Updated

Despite scheduled meetings in Dublin, Vice President Mike Pence is staying three hours away, on the other side of Ireland, at a golf course owned by Donald Trump. According to Pence’s office, it was the president himself who “suggested” the arrangement.

This, naturally, generated quite a bit of chatter about fresh evidence of corruption and a president who’s a little too eager to profit from his office, leading Pence and his team to criticize news reports that did little more than quote the vice president’s chief of staff, and insist that the decision about the Irish accommodations was “solely” made by Pence’s office.

It was against this backdrop that the White House managed to find an entirely different way to make Pence’s Irish visit needlessly controversial.

A senior White House aide suggested Vice President Pence’s lunch Tuesday with the prime minister of Ireland and his male partner shows Pence is not “anti-gay.”

“For all of you who think our @VP is anti-gay, I point you to his and the @SecondLady’s schedule tomorrow where they will join Taoiseach @LeoVaradkar and his partner Dr. Matthew Barrett for lunch in Ireland,” deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere tweeted Monday night.

Oh. So, Mike Pence had lunch with the prime minister of Ireland; the prime minister of Ireland is gay, ergo, fair-minded observers should no longer think of Mike Pence as being anti-gay.

Can’t anybody here play this game?

As Eugene Scott explained, “Accepting Deere’s implication that the Pences can’t be anti-gay, because of their willingness to dine with a gay couple, would require ignoring the impact that the policy positions the vice president has supported for years have had on LGBT people.”

Exactly. I’m glad Pence was willing to break bread with the Irish prime minister. If he’d refused, the political world would be having a very different kind of conversation this week.

But to believe that a luncheon wipes the slate clean for the far-right Indiana Republican is to wildly exaggerate the value of a single diplomatic meal.

As a governor, Pence’s most high-profile accomplishment was an anti-LGBT law. As a congressman, his record was equally clear: “In 2003, Pence, then representing the sixth congressional district of Indiana, co-sponsored an amendment that would have prohibited same-sex marriage. Four years later, he voted against the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which aimed to prevent job discrimination based on sexual orientation. While in Congress, he opposed a bill aimed at more effectively prosecuting hate crimes based on sexual orientation and voted against the repeal of the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.”

What’s more, in 2000, Pence recommended that money from the Ryan White Act, intended for groups providing HIV/AIDS care, be redirected to “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

If Pence were to apologize and denounce his previous stances, we could have a credible conversation about whether it’s fair or not to describe the vice president as “anti-gay.” But since that hasn’t happened, I think the “anti-gay” label will linger, one lunch notwithstanding.