MILWAUKEE — A pair of swing state Republican governors who recently signed into law measures to tighten abortion laws in their states sought to downplay those efforts Friday, while Democratic governors eagerly singled out GOP maneuverings on social issues, illustrating the delicate balancing act some Republicans must perform on divisive issues.
"In the last two and a half years, I have signed hundreds and hundreds of bills into law; about 96 percent of them have been bipartisan," said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) in an interview on the sidelines of the National Governors Association meeting here. "I think I've signed four or five that have to do in any way with abortion."
Walker, who was playing host to more than two dozen governors gathered here for a summer meeting, recently signed a law that would require women seeking abortions to obtain an ultrasound and mandates that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. The portion of the law requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges was blocked by a federal judge Friday until at least November.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) this week signed a law that would require abortion clinics to adopt some regulations that apply to ambulatory surgery centers and clear health-care providers to opt out of performing abortions, among other things. In an exchange with reporters, McCrory defended the law as an effort to "improve the health and safety" of abortion clinics, but noted that the lion's share of his time is spent on other matters.
"I spend 95 percent of my time on the economy and jobs, and I continue to do that," McCrory told a reporter during an exchange over abortion. "I've spent more time talking to you on this issue than I probably have in the state."
McCrory and Walker come from states with Republican legislatures, but are substantially influenced by Democratic voters. President Obama twice won Wisconsin and carried North Carolina in 2008.
Democrats here sought to cast a spotlight on GOP-led legislation on social issues, including abortion.
"They are constrained by a radical social agenda that focuses on making sure that anybody that doesn't look like them doesn't have a chance — women, minorities immigrants, gay and lesbian immigrants," said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
While interviews and news conferences on the sidelines of the meeting exposed partisan rifts, Walker and a handful of other governors kicked off the gathering Friday morning on a bipartisan note with a news conference in a picturesque waterfront building. The weekend will also include plenty of social events for the governors, including a Friday evening Harley-Davidson motorcycle ride.
"Washington may be gridlocked but the governors are not," said NGA chairman and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D).
The NGA convened sessions Friday on education, health care and homeland security. The discussions on health care come as the Obama administration and governors grapple with implementation of President Obama's signature health-care law, part of which has been delayed.
Homeland security has also been brought to the fore among governors. Last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) lashed out at Republicans who hold libertarian-leaning national security views, leading to an extended feud with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Walker declined to join the fray Friday, declaring, "I don’t know that you could put me in either camp, precisely."
The governors will meet continue to meet Saturday and Sunday in public and private sessions to discuss a variety of issues. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is slated to join a session on infrastructure Saturday morning.
Overall, the mood was light here Friday. The governors even found some time to stoke geographic rivalries.
"I've got better beer than you do," Shumlin bragged to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) at a Democratic news conference.
"He wishes," replied Hickenlooper.