WASHINGTON -- Asked Thursday whether the Republican gay-rights group GOProud should have been excluded from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the Tea Party-backed former Senate candidate Sharron Angle said, "I am always in favor of freedom."
The Huffington Post found Angle, who made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last year, cheerfully chatting up conservative activists in the CPAC halls. GOProud's co-sponsorship of the conference has led several notable conservative figures and organizations to avoid the gathering, but Angle said attempts to quash open dialogue are not "the American way."
Though the former Senate candidate did not name GOProud in her response, she left little doubt as to where she stood, repeatedly stressing the freedom of speech and assembly. From the interview, which appears in full below:
Q: Do you think they should have been included here, or because it's not really with the Republican platform, some of what they're promoting, do you think they shouldn't have been allowed here today?
ANGLE: I think that as Americans, we like the open forum of discussion. That's what freedom of speech is, that's what freedom of assembly is -- we have an assembly here of people coming together to exchange ideas -- and I think that's what we like is the discourse and exchange of ideas. I am always in favor of freedom.
As far as he controversy, I think we don't back away from controversy, we discuss it. And I think that's the American way, and I'm glad to have the discussion with anyone about any of these issues.
Q: So you think it's no problem that their group is here today?
ANGLE: We need to be very careful when we get to talk about our opinions and be exclusive. We are a country that says we have an open forum for discussion. Let's discuss the differences. You know about me, and there are many people that I have disagreement with, but I'm always willing to have the discourse.
The right-wing figures who skipped the conference following the naming of GOProud as a sponsor include Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and the Family Research Council.
Angle offered less surprising answers when asked about the Republican push to restrict abortion access early in the 112th Congress, saying that she supports the actions of the GOP-majority House.
"When we have a centralized government that is spending us into trillions of dollars into debt, we need to prioritize our list that we spend money on," she said. "And when we find an area that is truly a place where private money should be spent, because it's not a place for government at all, then yes, we should be defunding those kinds of areas, and I think that's really what this is about -- defunding an agency that shouldn't have been getting taxpayer money in the first place."
During her Senate campaign, Angle made clear that she opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. In June, she said on the issue: "God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things."
When asked Thursday whether the current abortion bills going through the House should make exceptions for rape or incest, Angle replied, "I think that federal money should not be spent on this issue. This is a very personal issue. We shouldn't be spending taxpayer dollars there."
Federal money is already prohibited from being used directly to pay for an abortion. Bills like H.R. 3, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), would go even further, penalizing employers who offer health plans that cover abortion by cutting their federal tax credits. Abortion-rights advocates charge that this move would essentially be a tax increase on businesses.