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February 29, 2012

Romney says he was misunderstood on Blunt health bill

Did Mitt Romney misunderstand the question about Sen. Roy Blunt's contraception amendment? Or did Romney change his view?

Blunt, R-Mo., has proposed an amendment to a transportation bill that would permit employers to refuse to offer health services that conflicted with religious or moral beliefs. A Senate vote is expected Thursday.

President Barack Obama's admimnistration caused an uproar earlier this year when it said it would require most health insurance programs to provide certain women's health and reproductive services. Many argued his plan, which he later softened, crossed the line separating church and state.

Romney, campaigning in Ohio Wednesday, was asked about his view by Ohio News Network's Jim Heath. Here's the transcript:

HEATH: “He’s brought contraception into this campaign. The issue of birth control, contraception, Blunt-Rubio is being debated, I believe, later this week. It deals with banning or allowing employers to ban providing female contraception. Have you taken a position on it? He (GOP candidate presidential Rick Santorum) said he was for that, we’ll talk about personhood in a second; but he’s for that, have you taken a position?”

ROMNEY: “I’m not for the bill, but look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a women, husband and wife, I’m not going there.”

HEATH: “Surprised that he went there?”

ROMNEY: “You know, I made it very clear when I was being interviewed by George Stephanopoulos in a debate a while ago: contraception is working just fine, let’s just leave it alone.”

Some conservatives were livid. Shortly thereafter, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul issued this clarifer:

“Regarding the Blunt bill, the way the question was asked was confusing. Governor Romney supports the Blunt Bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions and people of faith.” 

Romney tried to clarify during an appearance on radio's Howie Carr show.

"Of course I support the Blunt amendment," Romney said. "I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception so I was simply — misunderstood the question and of course I support the Blunt amendment."


Ohio Christian U. president backs Romney

Mark Smith, president of Ohio Christian University, Wednesday endorsed Mitt Romney's presidential bid.

The backing of Smith is significant because Romney is battling former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum for the social conservative vote.

But the time has come, said Smith at a rally in Bexley, Ohio, to concentrate on more than a single issue.

 "We need a Reagan leader, and that's more than being divisive, and just focusing on more than one or two issues," Smith said.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, won the Michigan and Arizona primaries Tuesday. He campaigned in Ohio, which votes March 6, on Wednesday. 

Democrats tout support for Israel

With the powerful America-Israel Political Action Committee convening in Washington over the weekend, the Democratic National Committee is up with a web ad defending President Barack Obama's Israel policy -- and accusing Republicans of politicizing the issue.

"GOP ads about Israel ignore reality," DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said on Twitter, introducing the minute long spot. "Here are the facts: Our commitment to Israel is ironclad and stronger than ever."

The ad concludes with a clip of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that Obama "rightly said that our security cooperation is unprecedented."

Republicans are hoping to siphon some traditionally Democratic leaning Jewish voters from Obama and the Republican Jewish Coalition earlier this month released an anti-Obama web ad that claimed Obama had proposed to cut funding for Israel's missile defense fund. An Associated Press fact check found the ad -- and a similiar claim by two House Republicans "fails to take into account the billions the administration wants in aid for the Mideast ally and ignores a few Washington realities."

On tap at the White House, a dinner for veterans of the Iraq War

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama tonight will host a dinner at the White House to honor U.S. military personnel who served in Iraq.

The White House says the dinner is an "expression of the nation's gratitude for the achievements and enormous sacrifices of the brave Americans who served in the Iraq War and of the families who supported them."

The guest list include men and women in uniform from all ranks, services, states and backgrounds, as well as military officials, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden.

February 28, 2012

Romney forces double Santorum backers' spending in Michigan

Mitt Romney spent twice as much in Michigan as Rick Santorum, according to new figures reported by NBC Tuesday morning.

Michigan holds its Republican primary today. According to the data, Romney and his backers spent $4.1 million, compared to Santorum's $2.1 million.

Restore Our Future, the political action committee that backs the former Massachusetts governor, spent $2.4 million, while the Romney campaign itself spent $1.7 million.

The Red, White, and Blue Fund, a political action committee funded by Santorum backers, spent $1.2 million. Santorum's campaign spent $897,000.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul spent $50,000.


February 27, 2012

TransCanada to build Okla.-Texas leg of Keystone XL pipeline

TransCanada announced today it plans to build the section of its Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to Houston. President Barack Obama rejected the pipeline last month, saying a deadline imposed by congressional Republicans didn't give time to evaluate whether to grant a cross-border permit.

The Oklahoma to Texas section doesn't need a permit. It connects with an already built pipeline that brings oil from Canada's tar sands to Oklahoma, where there's a glut of oil. (TransCanada map here.) The new pipeline will bring it to refineries and ports in Texas. (Opposition from land owners is growing in Texas; see last week's Star-Telegram story.)

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama welcomes the plan for the Cushing-Houston pipeline. TransCanada today said it also plans to petition for a new permit to build the rest of the 1,661-mile pipeline from the tar sands through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. The company has agreed to look for a new route in Nebraska around the Sand Hills region, in response to objections in the state.

Keystone XL was also a proxy battle on climate change, because oil from Canada's tar sands requires more energy to extract and produce, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil. Last summer, 1,253 protesters were arrested in front of the White House during two weeks of protests, and thousands surrounded the White House in November rally.


Santorum slightly ahead of Romney in new Michigan poll

The Rick Santorum-Mitt Romney race in Michigan is officially too clsoe to call, though Santorum opened up a small lead Sunday, according to a new poll.

Michigan voters go to the polls Tuesday. The closely watched primary is primarily a contest between Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who was born and raised in Michigan, and Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania who has been eagerly courting social conservatives.

Mitchell/Rosetta Stone, a Lansing, Mich.-based political strategy firm, and Rosetta Stone, of Atlanta, found Santorum with 37 percent and Romney with 35 percent. 858 peole were surveyed Sunday. Margin of error is 3.34 percentage points. The poll was conducted Sunday.

Trailing were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has made no effort in the state, at 9 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 8 percent. Paul has been campaigning vigorously since Saturday night.

Romney had hoped to woo conservatives, but the new poll found Santorum's big push for social conservatives "seems to have worked," said pollster Steve Mitchell.


February 25, 2012

Barack Obama, snob

Rick Santorum is trying to paint himself as the hero of the working class, and he got a big cheer Saturday when he blasted President Barack Obama during a conservative forum in Troy, Michigan.

"President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob," said Santorum, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. "There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor."

Going to college, Santorum suggested, could lead to trouble.

"That's why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image," the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania said. "I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his." 

In weekend addresses, Obama and GOP spar over rising gas prices

Taking the fight into the weekend, President Obama and House Republicans are sparring over the rising cost of gas prices -- with Obama defending what he says is an "all-of-the-above" strategy and the GOP looking to lame blame for the rise at the pump at his feet.

In his weekly address, Obama argues that "some politicians" see the higher costs as a "political opportunity" and are pushing "three-point plans for $2 gas" that amount to no more than Drill, Baby, Drill. But he says there's no magic bullet.

"You know there are no quick fixes to this problem, and you know we can't just drill our way to lower gas prices," Obama says. " If we're going to take control of our energy future and avoid these gas price spikes down the line, then we need a sustained, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy – oil, gas, wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels, and more...That's the strategy we're pursuing, and that's the only real solution to this challenge."

Delivering the Senate Republican address, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said there is more the administration could be doing to "halt skyrocketing costs."

"President Obama's policy has resulted in an unprecedented slowdown in new exploration and production of oil and gas," she said. "Offshore drilling permits are being issued at less than half the rate of the previous administration. The average number of leases issued on public lands is less than half that during President Clinton's term."

February 24, 2012

2 days after 2nd federal judge strikes down DOMA, House lawyers appeal

Lawyers defending the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act Friday appealed a federal district judge's ruling Wednesday that the law is unconstitutional.

Judge Richard White, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to the federal bench in northern California, is the second federal district judge to strike down the law. In 2010, Judge Joseph Tauro in Massachusetts, also a Republican appointee, ruled similarly, and an appeals court decision is expected soon in that case.

Because Attorney General Eric Holder announced a year ago that the Justice Department would stop defending DOMA in court, House Republicans sought outside counsel to defend it. Their lead attorney is Paul Clement, a highly regarded litigator who served as solicitor general in the Bush administration.

But it won't be a cakewalk for DOMA's defenders. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will consider the latest case, the same appeals court that earlier this month invalidated California's Proposition 8, the voter-enacted law that bans same-sex marriage in the state.

Legal experts say that the Supreme Court will have the final say in both cases, and that more than likely, both DOMA and Prop 8 will fall. However, it doesn't mean that same-sex marriage will be legal across the nation anytime soon.


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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