This would be the same amendment that’s co-sponsored by presumptive VP nominee Marco Rubio. Another damaging stumble the morning after a big primary victory? Sure sounds like it, says lefty Greg Sargent, citing an Ohio TV reporter:
I just got off the phone with [ONN-TV’s Jim] Heath, and he graciously played me the audio. Heath asks Romney if he’s for the “Blunt-Rubio” amendment, and defines it. Romney replies:
“I’m not for the bill. But, look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I’m not going there.”
That’s pretty remarkable. If Romney knew what he was saying, the Senate GOP caucus, which is set to vote on this amendment tomorrow, may feel as if Romney has pulled the rug out from underneath them. And this has become an important issue for conservatives. So it’ll be interesting to see how the base reacts to this, particularly since the GOP primary is anything but over and Rick Santorum — who’s perceived as a more reliable social conservative — is likely to use this to attack Romney, who will be under continued pressure to connect with social and religious conservatives.
Now here’s the video, via BuzzFeed. Watch how Heath “defined” it, then read on:
Blunt’s amendment, co-sponsored by Rubio, would allow employers to opt out of covering medical treatments to which they have a conscientious objection; Rubio’s own narrower amendment would limit the exemptions to sterilization and birth control for religious groups. Heath describes Blunt’s amendment as “allowing employers to ban providing female contraception,” which is kind of right but also confusing insofar as it omits relevant context about health insurance, the HHS mandate, etc. Looks to me like Romney blanked on what he was referring to, heard “ban … contraception” and panicked, and quickly dismissed it before moving on. You can hit him for not knowing the Blunt bill well enough to fill in the reporter’s gaps (although he has been awfully busy lately), but I don’t think he opposes it on the merits. In fact, as soon as Twitter started buzzing about this, his team issued a statement affirming his support. Even an outfit as socially conservative as Life News takes him at his word, instead slapping the reporter for trying to trip him up. Seriously, how likely is it that Mitt would throw Senate Republicans under the bus on this when even Democrats are crossing the aisle to vote for it?
Exit question: Purely hypothetically, could he have gotten away with opposing the Blunt bill if he had backed Rubio’s bill as an alternative? It’s arguably a better bill on the merits and boosting Rubio would have soothed conservative rage at him for disagreeing with Blunt. It would also distinguish him from Santorum as somewhat more socially moderate and yet it would confirm his opposition to Obama’s birth control mandate on religious liberty grounds. Second look at Romney opposing the Blunt amendment?
Update: People are noting on Twitter that the reporter also screwed up by referring to “Blunt-Rubio” when there really isn’t a Blunt-Rubio bill. Rubio has co-sponsored Blunt’s bill, but he’s pushing a separate bill of his own. Romney might have been confused about that too.
Update: Via BuzzFeed, Romney tells Howie Carr he misunderstood the question and thought the reporter was asking about some Ohio state law. I guess he really did blank on “Blunt-Rubio.”
Update (Ed): Just spoke to a contact on the Romney campaign, who was present when this exchange occurred. He stressed to me that framing it as a question about “banning” contraception made Romney think that the reporter was referencing something on the state level, not the Blunt amendment in the Senate — which doesn’t have anything to do with banning contraception. When you do as many interviews as these candidates do a day, miscommunications occur. At any rate, Romney has been consistent about scoffing at the idea that anyone seriously wants to ban contraception (recall the way he shut down George Stephanopoulos in the New Hampshire debate), and that his support for the Blunt amendment is not a “flip flop,” as some are alleging on Twitter, but his consistent position all along.