Jeb Bush was doing just fine answering a question at the Southern Baptist Convention on Tuesday about stripping federal funding from Planned Parenthood. Then it all went wrong.
“You could take dollar for dollar — although I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues — but if you took dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinarily fine organizations, community health organizations, that exist, federally sponsored community health organizations, to provide quality care for women on a wide variety of health issues,” he said. “But abortion should not be funded by the government.”
The 15-word aside contained in that quote — starting with “although” and ending with “issues” — almost immediately created a firestorm. Within the hour, Hillary Clinton’s campaign tweeted at Bush: “You are absolutely, unequivocally wrong.”
Sensing that he was in danger of tarnishing his conservative-enough-to-win-a-Republican-primary-but-electable-in-a-general-election image, Bush quickly backtracked.
“With regards to women’s health funding broadly, I misspoke, as there are countless community health centers, rural clinics and other women’s health organizations that need to be fully funded,” Bush said in a statement. “They provide critical services to all, but particularly low-income women who don’t have the access they need.”
As you might guess, that didn’t quiet Bush’s critics. Clinton’s campaign launched online ads urging supporters to “tell Jeb Bush he’s wrong on women’s health.” And even Republicans grumbled, noting that his gaffe allowed Clinton to change the subject from the news that the FBI was looking into the security protocols of her private e-mail server.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for Bush, who needed to spend the week prepping for his first debate in 13 years. His performance Thursday night at the Fox News-Facebook debate wasn’t bad, but it didn’t wipe out the damage from his gaffe earlier in the week.
Jeb Bush, for turning an aside into a full-blown controversy at exactly the wrong time, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.
Each week, Chris Cillizza awards the worst week in Washington to an inhabitant of Planet Beltway who stands out for all the wrong reasons. You can check out previous winners or e-mail Cillizza with candidates. You can also read more from Outlook and follow our updates on Facebook and Twitter.