Cain takes no press questions at House meeting on health care

Businessman Herman Cain took no questions from reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday as his campaign battled for the fourth day allegations that the GOP presidential contender sexually harassed at least two women during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

Cain, who was at the Capitol Wednesday afternoon for a previously-scheduled meeting with members of Rep. Michael Burgess’s (R-Tx.) Congressional Health Care Caucus, delivered brief remarks on health care reform and took questions from the handful of Republican House members who were present.

“As you can see, there is intense interest in health care policy on the Republican side,” Burgess deadpanned as he introduced Cain to a packed room of more than 75 people, mostly reporters and congressional aides. Inside the room were a dozen cameramen, and outslide were about two-dozen more.

In his 10-minute remarks, Cain criticized President Obama’s national health-care law as “fundamentally flawed” and pledged to repeal it on March 23, 2013 -- the third anniversary of its signing as well as the birthday of Cain’s son.

“This legislation has truly backfired,” he said.

Cain fielded several health-care-related questions from Reps. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), Billy Long (R-Mo.), Andy Harris (R-Md.) and G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.). Then Burgess brought the event to an abrupt end and Cain ignored reporters’ shouted questions as he was shuttled out of the hearing room.

“Well, I wanted every member that came to be able to ask a question, and we did that,” Burgess said after the event. “His folks were saying, ‘It’s time to go,’ and I can’t force him to stay.”

Burgess, who has already declared his support for former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R), said it’s “just hard to tell” whether the harassment allegations might be problematic enough to sink Cain’s campaign.

“I’m relatively new at this,” Burgess said. “I think he’s a good person with a good heart who’s doing what he thinks is the right thing, and from what I heard today, I’d have no problem if he’s the standard-bearer for our side.”

Cain met later Wednesday afternoon with about four-dozen House Republicans at the Capitol Hill Club just south of the House office buildings.

Members who attended the event said that it was not a fundraiser but rather a “meet-and-greet,” although fewer lawmakers attended than were present at a similar event held by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) last week on Capitol Hill.

Asked about the allegations Cain is facing, several lawmakers entering Wednesday’s event sounded a note of support for the candidate.

“You know how things swirl in the media,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said. “I know that you need to hear the facts, and I don’t think anybody knows what they are now. ... It didn’t hurt his crowd, though. I mean, whatever allegations there are, there were a lot of congressmen in there.”

Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), a freshman who also attended the Romney event last week, said that he remains undecided in the presidential race and was looking forward to meeting Cain.

“Before I make a decision, I want to see him face-to-face, hear what they have to say, try to look into their eyes and see their sincerity,” he said.

Asked about the allegations facing Cain, Stutzman said he believed they’re a concern but noted that “those things play out through political campaigns.”

“I believe that’s what the process is for, and he’s going to have to answer, and I believe he will,” he said. “And whatever does prove out will prove, I think, the direction that his campaign goes.”

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