RNC chairman’s criticism highlights risk to Obama of staying mum on same-sex marriage
The same-sex marriage debate sparked by Vice President Joe Biden’s comments Sunday on “Meet the Press” escalated Monday afternoon, with the chairman of the Republican National Committee saying that the episode is the latest instance of President Obama’s political opportunism.
Reince Priebus also seized on Biden’s remarks to make the case, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and some other top Republicans have, that Obama’s current position on same-sex marriage is the same as Romney’s.
A top Obama campaign official, meanwhile, declined to elaborate on Obama’s views on the issue and maintained that the gap between Romney and Obama on gay rights is wide.
Priebus and Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter made the remarks Monday afternoon in back-to-back interviews on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
“Quite frankly, Andrea, the president’s position as it sits today is the same position of Mitt Romney, because isn’t the president saying that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman?” Priebus told host Andrea Mitchell when asked about Romney’s views on the issue.
Mitchell then asked Priebus about the Obama campaign’s argument that there is a vast difference between the two candidates on the issue and that Romney would roll back rights for gays and lesbians.
“The difference is is that Mitt Romney is being honest about his position the whole way through,” Priebus said. “He’s claiming that marriage should be between one man and one woman.”
Obama, by contrast, publicly makes the same case as Romney, “then he would march out the vice president to confuse the issue,” Priebus said.
“What I’m suggesting to you, Andrea, is that Barack Obama will say and do anything and will have other people around him say and do anything to help him get elected,” he added.
The remarks underscore the increasing political difficulty Obama faces on the issue. Obama has repeatedly said that he backs civil unions and that his views on same-sex marriage are “evolving.”
But that position would appear to be at odds with that of Biden, who on Sunday said he is “absolutely comfortable” with gay couples having the same rights as heterosexual couples.
It also stands in contrast to that of much of the Democratic base, as well as Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who in a TV interview Monday morning said for the first time that he supports same-sex marriage.
Obama campaign officials have moved to play down Biden’s remarks, arguing that the president and vice president are in agreement on same-sex marriage.
Cutter, who was interviewed by Mitchell on MSNBC directly before Priebus, echoed that argument, contending that Biden “has made similar remarks before many times” and “was expressing the same policies as this president and this administration.”
Pressed repeatedly by Mitchell on Obama’s views on the issue, Cutter repeatedly declined to say.
“I don’t want to parse the vice president’s words,” she said at one point. Asked again toward the end of the interview, she responded, “Andrea, I’m not going to make news on the president’s beliefs on gay marriage today.”
The “big difference,” Cutter argued, is that Romney “wants to write discrimination into our U.S. Constitution.”
Although Obama could face a backlash among some supporters were he to come out in favor of same-sex marriage, Priebus’s remarks on Monday highlight the political risk for Obama in remaining mum on the issue as other members of his administration go public with their own views.
It also serves to cancel out any leverage Obama might have had on the issue in the aftermath of openly gay foreign policy adviser Richard Grenell’s departure from the Romney campaign, an episode on which Democrats quickly seized as an example, they argued, of Romney’s lack of political courage on gay rights.