Romney defends gay staffer who resigned, calls Grenell ‘very accomplished’
By Philip Rucker and Felicia Sonmez,
Mitt Romney addressed for the first time Friday the resignation of an openly gay campaign staffer, saying foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell was “capable” and “very accomplished” and that he wanted Grenell to stay in his job.
Richard Grenell in a 2006 file photo.
In a Friday morning interview on Fox News, Romney said “we wanted him to stay with our team.” Romney said his campaign does not discriminate in its hiring practices.
“He’s a very accomplished spokesperson, and we select people not based upon their ethnicity or their sexual preference or their gender but upon their capability,” Romney said.
The former Massachusetts governor added: “He expressed a desire to move on and I wish him the very best.”
Later Friday morning, in an interview on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown,” Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said that Grenell “did decide for his own reasons that his effectiveness was going to be compromised.”
When Romney took the podium at a social conservative summit late last year, he criticized the “poisonous language” of the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, a prominent conservative activist known for his inflammatory language toward gays, Muslims and others. Romney did not name names in criticizing Fischer, who spoke at the summit after the former Massachusetts governor did.
“One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line,” Romney told the crowd last fall. “Poisonous language does not advance our cause.”
In his remarks, Romney also alluded to the controversy that was ignited after Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, a supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, called Romney’s Mormon faith “a cult.”
Fischer was among those strongly criticizing Romney for hiring Grenell.
“Of course there were voices of intolerance that expressed themselves during this debate,” Fehrnstrom said Friday. “That was unfortunate. Mitt Romney has confronted those voices of intolerance.”
Fehrnstrom also called Grenell “supremely qualified to be the foreign policy spokesman for the Romney campaign” and said that Romney “strictly looks at the qualifications of the applicants” regardless of “extraneous factors” such as sexual orientation, race and gender.
Of the matter of a foreign policy conference call last week on which Grenell was reportedly not allowed to speak, Fehrnstrom said that “that was a conference call where we featured our foreign policy advisers; it was not a call where the staff was encouraged to be speaking with reporters.”