PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The White House on Thursday pushed back against a news report suggesting Vice President Pence requested a meeting with Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, who has been openly critical of Pence’s policies on LGBT rights.
Rippon is the first openly gay American man to qualify for the Olympics. In January, after Pence was chosen to lead the U.S. delegation into the Opening Ceremonies of the PyeongChang Games, Rippon made a series of comments to USA Today indicating he had no desire to meet with Pence, in large part because of his record regarding gay rights.
That record includes a statement on the website he used while running for Congress in 2000 that read “resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior” — a statement some interpret as a call for funding of gay conversion therapy. When first asked about the choice of Pence to lead the U.S. delegation, Rippon, 28, told USA Today, “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? I’m not buying it.”
The USA Today story published Wednesday claimed Pence was so concerned with Rippon’s comments that he reached out to Rippon’s representatives and requested a meeting. The skater’s agent, David Baden, confirmed in an email Thursday that Pence “asked to speak with Adam a few weeks ago.”
“Adam respectfully declined and said he would consider speaking with the VP after the Games,” Baden said.
A White House official denied the report Thursday, saying Pence’s staff only offered — not requested — to meet with Rippon, and made clear the vice president did not want to pressure or distract him ahead of Olympic competition.
That official also said Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, made a call to U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun with two main messages. The first was that Rippon’s understanding of Pence’s stance on gay conversion therapy was incorrect. When the issue was raised during the vice presidential campaign, Pence’s then-press secretary, Mark Lotter, denied it outright.
The second was that Pence’s office would never criticize Rippon but would correct him if he continued to say Pence supported gay conversion therapy. Pence took to Twitter to respond to the reports, he called the USA Today story #FAKENEWS and tweeted a message of support to Rippon:
“I want you to know we are FOR YOU. Don’t let fake news distract you. I am proud of you and ALL OF OUR GREAT athletes and my only hope for you and all of #TeamUSA is to bring home the gold. Go get ’em!”
“The USA Today report is false and should be corrected,” said Pence’s communications director, Jared Agen. “As all these facts show, there was only one phone call from our office and it was not as portrayed by the USA Today report. As we’ve said before, the vice president is supporting all the U.S. athletes in the Olympics and is hoping they all win medal.”
After a 40-minute practice Thursday afternoon, Rippon was asked whether he declined to meet with Pence. “I don’t want to distract from the competition or make this really too much for my competitors and my teammates,” he said. Rippon would not confirm that Pence’s staff made an overture to speak with him, directing inquiries to the USOC. The USOC declined to comment.
Rippon, however, made clear that he would be willing to meet with Pence at some time after his competition.
“I’m open to meeting him and having an open conversation. Opening Ceremonies are tomorrow. I’ve been really focused on the competition,” Rippon said. “I’ve been waiting 28 years to be here. I want to do everything I can to stay focused and be ready for this opportunity, because it’s my opportunity to show the world what I’ve got, and represent my country the best I can.”
Rippon’s public critiques of Pence have extended past those comments he interpreted as supporting gay conversion therapy. In an interview with The Post last month, Rippon said speaking out against Pence is “a no-brainer” and called his track record in LGBT rights “terrible.”
“I may have been corrected or scolded by his press secretary that they think my claims are false and have no basis in reality, but I know his track record because I didn’t even know who Mike Pence was before the election,” Rippon said then.
“I studied about him and learned about him, and I think his track record on LGBT rights is very clear and he is straight forward about his opinion of gay people. So when I was asked the question of what I think, I said exactly what I thought. This wasn’t something that just fell out of my mouth. This was something I had done some research on, and that’s where my opinion comes from.”
Parker reported from Tokyo. Liz Clarke also contributed from Gangneung, South Korea.