One day after his big wins in Michigan and Arizona, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) found himself in the eye of a media storm Wednesday afternoon after his response to an Ohio reporter about a contraception-related Senate amendment began making the rounds.
Romney’s camp clarified after the interview that the candidate supports Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) amendment, which is aimed at reversing the Obama administration’s policy requiring religious-affiliated institutions to provide health insurance that covers contraception.
But in the interview with the Ohio News Network, Romney appeared to state that he would not back the amendment.
The confusion stems in part from the Ohio reporter’s phrasing of his question to Romney: The Ohio News Network’s Jim Heath called the Blunt amendment the “Blunt-Rubio bill” – a measure that does not exist – and also incorrectly stated that the amendment “deals with banning or allowing employers to ban providing female contraception.”
A transcript of the interview, as provided by the Romney campaign:
Heath: He’s brought contraception into this campaign. The issue of birth control, contraception, Blunt-Rubio is being debated, I believe, later this week. It deals with banning or allowing employers to ban providing female contraception. Have you taken a position on it? He (Santorum) said he was for that, we’ll talk about personhood in a second; but he’s for that, have you taken a position?
Romney: 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 women, husband and wife, I’m not going there.
Heath: Surprised that he went there?
Romney: You know, I made it very clear when I was being interviewed by George Stephanopoulos in a debate a while ago: Contraception is working just fine, let’s just leave it alone.
Heath tweeted soon after the interview: “ALERT: Mitt Romney tells ONN he would not vote for senate bill which would allow employers to deny coverage for birth control.”
After the news quickly circulated among national political reporters, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul issued a statement clarifying that Romney backs the Blunt measure.
“Regarding the Blunt bill, the way the question was asked was confusing,” Saul said. “Governor Romney supports the Blunt Bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions and people of faith.”
A Romney aide noted that the Blunt bill “does not ban contraception” and argued that Heath asked the question “in a very rushed and confused manner.”
Republicans contend that the Blunt amendment, which is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate on Thursday, would reverse the national health-care law’s requirement that all employers, including religious-affiliated institutions, provide health coverage that includes contraceptive care at no co-pay cost to employees.
One Senate Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), came out in support of the measure Wednesday. But most national Democrats have hammered Republicans over the amendment, arguing that it would give employers broad discretion to deny their employees any type of coverage by citing the conscience exception – a point that Republicans dispute.
Romney was expected to further discuss the issue during an interview with Boston-area conservative radio host Howie Carr.