wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

The White House’s convenient contraception controversy

at 06:30 AM ET, 02/10/2012

The White House’s decision to force Catholic hospitals to dispense emergency contraception was a hot topic at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday.

And that’s probably AOK with the Obama campaign.
Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum speaks at Oral Roberts University on Thursday in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

For a White House that has often been accused of trying to undermine Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential race, the contraception debate is perhaps its happiest accident in that quest.

After all, while the issue hasn’t exactly been fun to deal with for the White House, what better way to help a social conservative like Rick Santorum in his quest to bring down Romney?

All told, there was about as much talk Thursday at CPAC about emergency contraception as there was about the economy, from Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) speech in the morning throughout the entire day.

That’s a pretty sharp change in the issue matrix. And the return of the “culture war” undoubtedly helps Santorum.

Social issues are Santorum’s bread and butter. More than any other candidate in the GOP race – and arguably more than any senator in recent decades – he’s got the record that makes social conservatives swoon.

The problem for him has been that, to this point in the campaign, there has been virtually no discussion of social issues whatsoever.

And however much of a strength this is for Santorum with the GOP base, it is just as much of a weakness for Romney — a weakness the White House was only so happy to exploit.

During a press conference Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney compared the Obama administration’s policy on emergency contraception at Catholic hospitals to the policy under Romney in Massachusetts.

“This is, I think, ironic, the fact that Mitt Romney is expressing — criticizing the president for pursuing a policy that is virtually identical to the one that was in place when he was governor of Massachusetts,” Carney said.

Romney’s campaign counters that the governor never supported that policy and fought against it, though a recent Boston Globe report disputes that account.

In a lot of ways, though, the argument is irrelevant, because this simply reminds people of Romney’s checkered past on social issues.

And even if Romney has a credible case here – Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler says his GOP opponents are taking liberties with their version of the controversy – that case is undermined by his past support for abortion rights.

Indeed, Romney spent much of an interview with Fox Business Network on Thursday defending himself on this.

“The White House can’t point to my record, because this occurred before I became governor and my effort was to get it out of the legislation going forward,” Romney said.

But in the end, people who are inclined to support Romney will, while those who are not or who have doubts about his commitment to social conservatism may see this as another example of Romney being wishy-washy on social issues.

That wasn’t a big issue before. But thanks to the White House, it is now.

The Obama Administration certainly has its own issues to resolve when it comes to the controversy, but we’re guessing it’s not sad about what impact it has had on the GOP presidential race.

Biden says contraceptive fight can be resolved: Vice President Biden, a Catholic, said the fight over mandatory birth control coverage will be resolved.

“I’m determined to see that this gets worked out and I believe we can work it out,” he told Cincinnati’s WLM radio station during a trip to Ohio. “I think the president, I know the president, feels the same way.”

According to Bloomberg News, Biden warned Obama that the new rule could alienate Catholic voters, but the president ultimately sided with a group of mostly female advisers in supporting the mandate.

Romney met privately with conservatives: Romney held a “private reception for conservative leaders” at CPAC on Thursday afternoon, according to an invitation obtained by CNN.

Romney met with 30 influential conservatives for about an hour, a day before he addresses the CPAC crowd.

Romney’s losses in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on Tuesday reopened debate about whether the Republican frontrunner is palatable to his party’s conservative base.

Fixbits:

A college student who glitter-bombed Romney in Colorado was a Democratic state Senate intern who has been fired.

Obama holds a fundraiser at home of wealthy, married lesbian couple in Chicago.

Karl Rove says Newt Gingrich’s Southern strategy won’t work.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) says the GOP presidential race may go all the way to the convention.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) faces some pushback on his state Supreme Court nominees.

The Florida GOP’s redistricting map goes to the governor’s desk, with a legal challenge likely in its future.

Are moderate Republicans emerging in the House?

Must-reads:

CPAC buzz reflects disenchantment with GOP field” — Beth Reinhard, National Journal

Despite lightheartedness at CPAC gathering, tension within movement can be felt” — David A. Fahrenthold and Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post

In Colorado, a Struggle Between Pragmatism and Passion” — Kirk Johnson, New York Times

Kumbaya to Confrontation: Colorado Redistricting Started With Best Intentions Then Turned Ugly” — Lois Beckett, ProPublica

 
Read what others are saying