It’s already well known that Barack Obama didn’t take the advice of the two Catholics closest to him, VP Joe Biden and chief of staff Bill Daley, in promulgating his new mandate from HHS that would force religious organizations to pay for contraception and abortifacients, even if the use of such products violates their religious doctrine. Now Jake Tapper at ABC News suggests that Obama allowed his own Cabinet Secretary to box him into a corner, emphases mine:
The two sides couldn’t even agree about what they were debating. In the fall, Richards brought in polling indicating that the American people overwhelmingly supported the birth control benefit in health insurance. She also highlighted statistics showing the overwhelming use of birth control.
The Vice President and others argued that this wouldn’t be seen as an issue of contraception – it would be seen as an issue of religious liberty. They questioned the polling of the rule advocates, arguing that it didn’t explain the issue in full, it ignored the question of what religious groups should have to pay for. And they argued that women voters for whom this was an important issue weren’t likely to vote for Mitt Romney, who has drawn a strong anti-abortion line as a presidential candidate, saying he would end federal funding to Planned Parenthood and supporting a “personhood” amendment that defines life as beginning at the moment of fertilization.
Political hands disagreed with that interpretation. Cultural issues will play a bigger issue in the 2012 election than they did during the economic crisis of 2008, they said. Some of the suburban women up for grabs in this election, ones who are starting to feel more confident about the economy, can be firmly won over if they learned about this rule – if they also were told that President Obama supported an exemption for houses of worship while Romney opposes not only abortion but federal funding for contraception.
Some in the White House thought that the president’s hands became tied when Sebelius issued the proposed rule in August; they would have preferred a delay so as to work out some sort of arrangement with religious charities and schools. The president was boxed in by this rule, they say; after the rule was issued, any discussion about expanding the exemption became a rallying cry for groups that support contraception and legal abortion, such as Planned Parenthood. When President Obama met with Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in November, discussing this topic as well as others, these groups sounded the alarm.
Tapper also reports that a third Catholic member of Obama’s brain trust, current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, raised objections to it when the administration first passed it around in 2010, thinking that it would be political suicide. Apparently Obama wasn’t talking with those advisers, but instead reached out to Senate Democrats to test the waters … like Barbara Boxer and Jeanne Shaheen, who gave the idea enthusiastic thumbs-ups. In a separate article, ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports that Obama should have checked with the rest of his Democratic caucus in the upper chamber, where a revolt has begun to take place:
A handful of Senate Democrats have split with President Obama’s controversial birth-control mandate and slammed the administration’s requirement that church-affiliated employers cover contraceptives.
The five Democrats in the Senate expressing concern about some parts of the administration’s policy include, most recently, Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bill Nelson of Florida, who have spoken publicly about their unhappiness with the mandate.
“This was a bone-headed decision by HHS,” Sen. Ben Nelson said of the new Health and Human Services mandates, according to the Nebraska Radio Network. Nelson agreed with state Attorney General Job Bruning’s decision to file a legal challenge to the mandate.
Florida’s Nelson has also raised concerns. “My position is that church-affiliated organizations should be exempt, not just churches,” Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times Buzz Blog, adding that he has called the White House to express his concerns.
“It’s a matter of religious freedom,” Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin told ABC News.
Senator Joe Manchin has co-sponsored Marco Rubio’s bill repealing the mandate, going as far as to call it “un-American” in a letter he sent to Obama.
So with all of this facepalm action of having a member of his own party call his policy un-American, Obama was bound to get asked about his new mandate on religious organizations. CBS correspondent reported on Twitter what happened when a reporter finally asked the question:
In the Oval Office, President Obama refuses to answer if he stands by contraception rule. Says to reporter: “Come on guys.”
That’s the response that Obama has prepared all week on this controversy? “Come on, guys”? What, was “So’s your old man” being held in reserve?
Obama will climb down by reversing this mandate, but it will either happen this Friday afternoon or next Friday afternoon, after 4 pm ET, when the media has more or less checked out for the weekend. It won’t go any longer than that. If Obama can’t even answer for himself on this policy after several days of preparation, he’s looking for a way out — but he won’t reverse himself until he can get to a slow media cycle to cover his tracks.
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