MANHATTAN, Kansas (CNN) - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo received an unusually critical reception in his home state of Kansas on Friday, fielding tough questions on climate science, immigration and human rights.
Pompeo, who returned to the Sunflower State amid heavy speculation around a potential Senate run, delivered a lecture at Kansas State University. When the event was opened for a question and answer session with audience members, Pompeo was immediately faced with queries about headlines out of his State Department and Trump administration policies.
The top US diplomat, pacing the stage and at times appearing exasperated during the Q&A, quipped that "my team told me if I took questions from the audience, I was a fool today."
"They may have been right about the fool part. I'll leave that to you all," Pompeo said. "Secretaries of state don't often do this, but from my perspective, I want to hear it. If you don't like what I'm doing, I want to know. I want to make sure we get it."
Pompeo's first question came from a member of the university's Physics Department, who referenced Rod Schoonover, a State Department analyst who resigned not long after he was reportedly blocked from giving testimony about the impact of climate change on national security.
"Do you support the suppression of scientific reports from within the US Department of State?" he asked.
Pompeo replied that "of course, no one supports the absence of science."
"I would argue that this State Department -- indeed, this administration -- has relied on science far more than the previous administration, and I would argue more than any administration in history," he said.
That question was immediately followed by one about free speech and the right to protest after the questioner reportedly saw a protester being "harassed" by the secretary's security detail. Pompeo said he hadn't seen the reported harassment, but said that those with divergent views were "welcome to speak loudly." A source familiar told CNN later on Friday the protester was approached by Kansas State police, not Pompeo's detail, and said that the police did not harass her.
Pompeo, whose remarks focused heavily on "unalienable rights," was asked about speaking "so strongly" about those rights when "the Trump administration very strongly opposes people coming here in search of those rights and being able to pursue happiness in countries where they may not feel safe or may not have those opportunities."
"Look, I'm glad you asked this question. That's fundamentally not true," he retorted. "I remember when I was a member of Congress, we'd get calls almost every day into our office from someone from Africa or Europe or Asia who said they want to come be an American, and we'd send them the paperwork. And yet today we have a southern border where the proper advice might well have been, 'No, just come on in.' That's not right; that's not fair. That actually doesn't respect the rule of law and human dignity and the unalienable rights about which I spoke."
Asked about how the US is "promoting an end to the oppression of Uighurs in China" -- the plight of whom Pompeo referenced in his speech -- the secretary of state conceded that the US was not doing enough. He said he hoped to make efforts at the United Nations General Assembly later this month.