From an article in yesterday’s edition of The Hill:
Pressure to roll back the new contraception policy mounted quickly as the day wore on, driven by divisions among Democrats, mixed messages from President Obama’s advisers and a constant drumbeat from the GOP.
“It’s becoming a thorny problem for the White House and it appears to only be getting worse,” said one Democratic strategist. “The politically astute move would be to modify this thing, and quick.”
Asked if the administration should shift course, a former senior administration official said, “I don’t see how they couldn’t. It’s pretty bad.”
With the consternation rising to a fever pitch, Republicans announced a plan to move a bill soon that would repeal the mandate. And prominent Democrats are breaking with the administration over the policy, which requires some religious organizations to cover contraception in their employees’ healthcare plans.
Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) urged the White House last week to broaden the exception for religious employers. Several of their Democratic colleagues have piled on since.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said Wednesday that the Health and Human Services Department “misstepped” in adopting the new policy.
“I just don’t think this is a fight that should have been picked and I think it needs to be fixed,” Connolly said. “I have every confidence that the administration will do so.”
No word if Connolly actually put money down on the matter. It wouldn’t be wise considering that President Obama’s most trusted aide is all for the mandate, as the New York Times reports:
But White House officials insisted the president would not back down from his decision last month that employees at institutions affiliated with religious organizations receive access to contraceptives. …
The White House has been skittish from the start about the new rule, which was announced last month only after internal debates at the White House that, to some extent, pitted women — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is Catholic; Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, and Nancy-Ann DeParle, the deputy chief of staff, on one side, arguing forcefully in favor of the rule, administration officials said.
On the other side, cautioning that the administration tread carefully and look for ways to minimize another major break with the church, they said, were several Catholic men who are close advisers to Mr. Obama: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and William M. Daley, the chief of staff at the time. Also weighing in, administration officials said, was Denis R. McDonough, the deputy national security adviser, whose purview does not naturally extend to health issues, but who is a Catholic.
“I can’t tell you how many times we went over this,” one administration official said, speaking on grounds of anonymity. In the end, it was Mr. Obama himself who made the decision, aides say, calculating that at the end of the day, the issue of public health access outweighed the concerns of the religious institutions.
Or, in the now famous words of Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittburgh: “The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, ‘To Hell with you!’ There is no other way to put it.” Bishop Zubik, by the way, has now penned another column, this time addressing responses to his previous column:
Some people thought I was saying “to hell with the president.” I was not! I never would do that! I have too much respect for the office of the president to ever make such a statement. What I was saying was that the decision to retain this mandate was a complete and total dismissal of people of faith, of our freedom as Catholics and the rights of all citizens of faith to practice their faith without imposing on them immoral conditions. You and I, who wrote so many letters to the Obama administration this past fall, made that position clear. The Obama Administration effectively responded, “to hell with you.” They dismissed us. They dismissed people of all faiths. If some thought that the very use of that phrase was not appropriate for a bishop, all I can say is that’s what it felt like—to me and to many others. The mandate was presented as a bureaucratic fiat without appeal for which we have a year to knuckle under. If that isn’t saying “to hell with you,” I don’t know what does.