Washington Watch Roundtable: Obama Administration Faces Backlash From The Catholic Church Over Birth Control Mandate (VIDEO)

Obama Administration faces backlash from the Catholic Church over the health care birth control mandate. Could they have avoided this conflict?

This week’s Washington Watch roundtable features Sophia Nelson, Joseph Williams, Michelle Bernard and Joe Madison.

MR. MARTIN:  All right, folks.   Lots to talk about this week with our roundtable.  Sophia Nelson, author of Black Woman Redefined – yes, author of the book Black Woman Redefined.

MS. SOPHIA NELSON:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  She’s always shy about that.  Joseph Williams, White House correspondent for Politico.  He’s back with that boring, white pocket square.


MR. MARTIN:  Michelle Bernard, president and CEO of the Bernard Center; and Sirius XM Radio’s “The Black Eagle,” Joe Madison.  I don’t know what’s goin’ on down there with all that black goin’ on, so – you know.


MR. MARTIN:  You know, y’all tryin’ to have a Black power summit or somethin’.

MS. MICHELLE BERNARD:  It’s Black History Month.

MR. MARTIN:  Right, a- — or – or Malcolm X[’s] birthday comin’ up in a few days or somethin’.

All right.  Let’s get right into it.  I found it interesting this week where Vice Pres. Joe Biden came out and said essentially, “We tried to tell the President, ‘Look, this Catholic decision on contraception is not going to be popular.’”  [The] White House gets nailed.  All of a sudden, they have to reach a compromise.  Could they have avoided any of this by understanding it was going to blow up in their face anyway?

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  Well, I think it was two things.  First, the Obama Administration has a woman problem.  They’ve had a lot of issues with people coming out of the White House claiming that it’s a hostile work environment, that women’s voices are not heard.  A lot of the female cabinet officials came in and talked to the President about this one after the Catholic bishops had already been there, so – the second problem is it seems like almost from the outset, they’ve had a messaging problem on various issues.  This isn’t the first time they’ve done something and had it blow up in their faces mainly because they were not consistent about what they were trying to sell, and they were not definitive.  They didn’t own it, and it – as a result, they’ve got a PR problem that they’ve got to fix, that looks worse trying to fix it than it might have if you’d gone straight up with kind of a sales pitch on the way out.

MS. NELSON:  Well, as always, it looks like the Obama Administration is in a reactionary mode instead of a proactive mode, and I think that what we’ve seen today is that the President and the White House are trying to fix this situation and make it so that it works out right and that they get through this problem that they clearly have with female voters – and females within their own administration.

MS. BERNARD:  You know, with this, what – what I find fascinating – and we keep having these discussions – is the – is the election going to be determined on economics or demographics?  Right now, everybody’s going t- — looking at the – looking at the Democra- — demo- —

MR. MARTIN:  Of course.

MS. BERNARD:  — -graphic side of things.  What was fascinating to watch over the past week was not just what happened with the co- — the contraceptive compromise, but also what happened between Planned Parenthood and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. BERNARD:  And what you’re seeing is that there’s a lot of political heft – we’re seeing it right now – on the left, with left-of-center women’s groups, particularly the pro-choice lobby, in getting what they want; and it’ll be interesting to see if we begin to see not only the Democrats pandering [to] the women’s vote, but w- — whether or not we’re going to see the same thing happen on the Republican side.

MR. JOE MADISON:  A- — and it’s –

MR. MARTIN:  Joe – [crosstalk]- —

MR. MADISON:  — in- — it’s interesting that Planned Parenthood was one of the first groups to sign off on – on this, and if they had – if it had been another scenario with Planned Parenthood, it wouldn’t have mattered.

What – what I really don’t understand is that this issue should’ve been addressed a year ago.


MS. NELSON:  [Unintelligible.]

MR. MADISON:  And when they f- — when they were debating and arguing this whole healthcare issue, it wa- — it had to be a key component.  Remember –

MR. WILLIAMS:  Well, it was.  The Stupak amendment.  Remember?


MR. WILLIAMS:  There was –

MR. MADISON:  — yeah, that’s –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — a lot of discussion –

MR. MADISON:  — right.

MR. WILLIAMS:  — about –

MR. MADISON:  And – and –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — that.

MR. MADISON:  — and I was –

MR. WILLIAMS:  And they retreated off of that.

MS. NELSON:  Um-hum.

MR. MADISON:  And so it – it should’ve been re- — and that’s my point.  It should’ve been resolved


MR. MADISON:  — ’cause he –

MS. BERNARD:  But the comprom- —

MR. MADISON:  — didn’t do anything –

MS. NELSON:  But it’s a pattern.

MR. MADISON:  — different than what –

MS. BERNARD:  — the compromise –

MR. MADISON:  — Bush did.

MS. BERNARD:  — that was announced on Friday could’ve been announced earlier in the week.  It could’ve been announced three weeks ago.

MS. NELSON:  I agree.

MS. BERNARD:  It’s not as if some genius just came up with this compromise.

MR. MARTIN:  I – I –

MS. BERNARD:  And Ca- — but the- — Roland, Catholics are one of the most important swing voters in terms of voting blocs in the country.


MS. BERNARD:  This was so incredibly –

MR. MARTIN:  — well, he- – here’s –

MS. BERNARD:  — tone deaf.

MR. MARTIN:  — here’s – here’s –

MS. NELSON:  Absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  — what – here’s how I sort of read this.  First of all, there’re 77 million Catholics in the United States, and I – I do believe that there’s a difference between what the people in the pews are saying and thinking –

MR. MADISON:  And the hierarchy.

MR. MARTIN:  — an operating –


MR. MARTIN:  — and the hierarchy.

MR. MADISON:  Right.

MS. NELSON:  Absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  But politically, surely you knew what – how the hierarchy was going to respond.  So, was this a question of saying, “Let’s pick a fight with them, and then we can get the compromise we want”?

MS. NELSON:  Um-um.

MR. MARTIN:  Because I just don’t understand.  If you knew that was going to be the vicious response, why even go down that road in an election –

MS. NELSON:  Because –

MR. MARTIN:  — year?

MS. NELSON:  — Roland –


MS. BERNARD:  Because –

MS. NELSON:  — it’s been a hallmark of this administration – in my humble opinion, they don’t like to wade into controversy.  They don’t like to necessarily listen to things, so they kinda go their own way.  And like I said, then they get in trouble, and then they react to it.

MR. MARTIN:  But they waded –

MS. NELSON:  That’s the –

MR. MARTIN:  — into this one –

MS. NELSON:  — but –

MR. MARTIN:  — when –

MS. NELSON:  — w- — but – but –

MR. MARTIN:  — when it sounded –

MS. NELSON:  — they didn’t get it.

MR. MARTIN:  — like the V- —

MS. NELSON:  They didn’t –

MR. MARTIN:  — when it –

MS. NELSON:  — get it.

MR. MARTIN:  — sounded like the Vice President was saying, “I’m trying to tell you” –

MS. NELSON:  As a Catholic – [crosstalk].

MR. MARTIN:  — “this is going” –

MS. NELSON:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — “to be a little funky.”

MS. BERNARD:  They under- —

MR. WILLIAMS:  But, see, the –

MS. BERNARD:  — -estimated –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — problem with that is that the Vice President did come in and say, “Heads up.”  He came in with one of the – one of the Catholic bishops.  The Administration – at least particularly, as – as we read it at Politico, felt challenged that the President felt like, “Wait.”  You know, “Why are you even bringing this to my table?”

MR. MADISON:  Right.

MR. WILLIAMS:  Then the reaction was that the women inside the Obama Administration said, “Hey, we heard that this guy was in here.  What’s up?”  That’s where the conscious [sic] of the President kicked into play, and he decided –

MR. MADISON:  But it wasn’t –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — “We’re going” –

MR. MADISON:  — only the –

MR. WILLIAMS:  — “to go there.”

MR. MADISON:  — Vice President.  It was the chief of staff


MR. MARTIN:  Bill Daley.

MR. WILLIAMS:  — Daley.

MR. MADISON:  — Bill

MS. BERNARD:  Bill –

MR. MADISON:  — Daley.

MS. BERNARD:  — Daley.

MS. NELSON:  All Catholics.

MR. MARTIN:  But – but do –


MR. MADISON:  [Crosstalk] – the same thing.

MR. MARTIN:  — but – but aga- — again – and I get it.  I get it, the – how the women responded.  I totally get that, but what I don’t get is when you’ve had the President’s poll numbers going up, when you had the positive economic numbers there as well, when all of a sudden the narrative that was coming out was that the President was having – he had this populist tone – you see Rick Santorum – we’ll talk about him in a moment – he wins three states – Catholic, out on the campaign trail – why would you hand your opposition an easy victory?

MS. BERNARD:  Un- — be- — because they completely underestimated the fact that both demographic groups are equally important.  I think there was someone in the Administration who sat back and said, “Women’s voices are important, and” – “and we want women to come out and vote for the President,” because, typically, there’s a gender gap.  Women more often than not vote Democratic, and they want to make – re- — reach out and make sure that they get that vote.  And I think they were just –


MS. BERNARD:  — tone deaf.

MR. MADISON:  — I – I’m like Roland.  I’m baffled.  I think what we’re hearing is –

MR. MARTIN:  Right!

MR. MADISON:  — everybody is baffled.


MR. MADISON:  “How could you allow this to happen?”

So, where do we go –

MS. NELSON:  [Crosstalk] –

MR. MADISON:  — from here?

MS. NELSON:  — it happens a lot.

MR. MADISON:  I think the positive, the take-away, of this is – and I – and I made this point on – on the show when this all happened, because I was catching it [at] home from daughters and –

MS. BERNARD:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MADISON:  — andand wife – is that there was going to be a compromise.  I knew that was going to happen – for all the reasons we’ve stated here:  the Catholic vote, women’s issue.  And I think the take-away here is he’s got, I think, a –


MR. MADISON:  — a solution.

MR. MARTIN:  — I – I – I just think that, at the end of the day – and we’re about to go to a break.  I just think, at the end of the day, if you knew you were going to have to compromise on the issue, you compromise –

MS. BERNARD:  Up front.

MR. MARTIN:  — in your initial argument, as opposed to you make a state- — m- — make a position.  You stand out there, “I’m sticking with it!”  Then you’re forced into a compromise.  Now, frankly – and I’ll say it – the President looks weak by having to make the compromise – when you take the hit on the front end versus going through, frankly, two hits.

MS. NELSON:  Well, that’s –

MS. BERNARD:  [Crosstalk] –

MS. NELSON:  — poor political –

MS. BERNARD:  — the compromise –

MS. NELSON:  — advice.

MS. BERNARD:  — it looks like retreat.

MR. MARTIN:  That – precisely.

MS. NELSON:  Exactly!