Jim Heath, a reporter for ONN-TV in Ohio, just Tweeted a remarkable piece of news: Mitt Romney told him he does not support the Blunt amendment, which would empower employers and insurers to deny health coverage they find morally objectionable.
I just got off the phone with 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.
Perhaps Romney now feels confident enough in victory in the GOP primary that he’s willing to risk some ire from the base in order to begin his pivot to general election mode in advance of winning the nomination. The primary has exerted pressure on Romney to embrace positions that could alienate swing constituencies, and this one — which would have been risky for him to support — looks like a case where Romney wasn’t willing to take on more baggage. On the other hand, opposing it is also seemingly risky.
I’ll bring you a link to the video when it’s posted.
UPDATE: Here’s what the reporter said to Romney: “Blunt-Rubio is being debated later this week that deals with allowing employers to ban providing female contraception.”
After this, Romney provided the above answer.
UPDATE II: It’s not clear which bill Romney opposes. It was described to him as “Blunt-Rubio,” which is a term some use to refer to the Blunt amendment, because Rubio co-sponsored. But the bill was described to Romney more narrowly, in keeping with another Rubio amendment that just focuses on contraception. The question is what Romney was opposing when he said, “I’m not for the bill.”
UPDATE III: The Romney camp now says he’s for it:
“Regarding the Blunt bill, the way the question was asked was confusing,” a spokesman told TPM. “Governor Romney supports the Blunt Bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions and people of faith.”