President Obama on Monday denounced Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape,” calling the views “offensive,” while also suggesting that the Missouri Republican had revealed a broader division on women’s health issues between the parties.
“Rape is rape,” Obama said during an impromptu news conference in the White House briefing room. “The idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me.”
Obama weighed in a day after Akin, who is running for the U.S. Senate, was asked in a television interview why he opposes abortion even in cases of rape. Akin replied that women rarely get pregnant from rape, saying “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.”
Democrats and Republicans, including presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, have criticized Akin. On Monday, Obama said that he does not think Romney or other Republicans would agree with Akin’s sentiment, which the president said was “way out there.”
But Obama added that the debate over Akin’s remarks underscores the notion that male politicians “shouldn’t be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions or qualifying forcible rape versus non-forcible rape. Those are broader issues and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party.”
The president’s remarks came as Democrats were seeking to capitalize on Akin’s comments in an election year when the debate over women’s health issues, including access to contraception and abortion, has been among the most hotly contested issues. Obama’s campaign has intensely targeted female voters, which it hopes can help the president make up for potential losses among white, blue-collar male voters in critical battleground states.
Obama spoke to reporters Monday after interrupting White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during the daily briefing. The White House had not given any prior notice that the president would appear, but pressure has been mounting for Obama to take questions from the press corps.
The president fielded questions on topics ranging from recent killings of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the security situation in Syria and the sluggish U.S. economy. He also staunchly defended the tone of his campaign, dismissing criticism from Republicans, and some Democrats, that his reelection team has been too negative in attacking Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital and demanding that the former Massachusetts governor release more tax returns.
“If you look at the overall trajectory of our campaign and the ads that I’ve approved and are produced by my campaign, you’ll see that we point out sharp differences between the candidates, but we don’t go out of bounds,” Obama said.
Obama emphasized that he did not authorize a recent advertisement from Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that supports the president, which quotes a former worker of a company that Bain acquired saying his wife died after he was laid off and did not have health care.
“I don’t think that Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad,” Obama said. “But keep in mind this is an ad that I didn’t approve, I did not produce and, as far as I can tell, has barely run. I think it ran once.”
Asked why his campaign continues to demand that Romney release more of his past tax returns — Romney has released his 2010 taxes and is promising to release 2011 soon — Obama said that Americans expect their presidential candidates to be “an open book” when it comes to their personal finances.
“The idea that this is somehow exceptional, that there should be a rationale or a justification for doing more than the very bare minimum, has it backwards,” Obama said. “I’m not asking to disclose every detail of his medical records, although we normally do that as well. But this isn’t sort of overly personal here, guys. This is pretty standard stuff. I don’t think we’re being mean by asking you to do what every other presidential candidate’s done, right? It’s what the American people expect.”
After Obama’s remarks, Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman, said in a statement that Obama failed to “stand up to dishonest rhetoric and attacks” from his campaign. Obama’s stance “demonstrates yet again he’s diminished the office that he holds,” Williams said.