With just less than six months left before Election Day, the parties debated on each of the Sunday talk shows the political ramifications of President Barack Obama’s announcement on Wednesday that he believes same-sex couples should be able to marry.
Democrats argued Obama’s decision to go public with his feelings on the issue was not a political calculation, while Republicans, before pivoting to the economy, said the president’s announcement was both a flip-flop and an attempt to distract voters from his record.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said Obama raised the issue “because he can’t run on his record.”
“So he’s trying to raise divisive issues up to solidify his base and to divide this country,” Cornyn said. “And that isn’t what we should be focusing on now. We should be focusing on jobs and the economy.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), appearing on the same show, said the president did not announce this for political reasons, but it won’t hurt him much anyway come November.
“I don’t think he’s going to lose votes that he otherwise hadn’t lost,” Durbin said. “I’m not sure the evangelicals were going to lean toward President Obama anyway.”
Obama’s GOP opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, reaffirmed his position on Saturday in a commencement speech at Liberty University that marriage should be restricted to straight couples.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) argued that gay marriage is just one of many differences in positions between Romney and Obama, then quickly moved on to talking about the economy.
“I think Gov. Romney’s position has been very clear from the time he was governor of Massachusetts,” he said. “It’s something that hasn’t changed.”
By contrast, he argued that Obama has “changed his position more than once.” He also noted that Romney’s view on “traditional marriage” is “one that is held by a lot of people around the country.”
On the same show, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Obama’s decision to back gay marriage was not political.
“I don’t think it’s a flip-flop,” she said. “There’s no political calculus in it because it’s not smart. If he’s going to do it from a political point of view, it doesn’t make any sense.”
She said the decision was more personal, saying she’s seen this dynamic in California.
“You get to know more and more gay couples. You see the happiness. You see the economic security that marriage makes, and even more fundamentally, you see children who otherwise would not have an adopted home.”
“More and more people say, what’s wrong with people being happy?”
On ABC’s “This Week,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the first openly gay Member of Congress, said he expected the president would openly support gay marriage. And given Obama’s past decisions on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act, Frank said it’s unlikely the president’s announcement changed any voters’ minds.
Frank also did not oppose Obama’s decision not to nationalize the issue, leaving the power to regulate marriage with individual states.
Appearing with Frank, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) compared the White House’s handling of the situation, following Vice President Joseph Biden’s statement last weekend that he supports same-sex marriage, to a comedy routine. “It’s like an Abbott and Costello hit, ‘Who’s on first?’”
“I think what we’re waiting to see is if the Democrat Party is going to make this a part of their platform,” she said.
Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether same-sex marriage will be a defining
issue, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said he didn’t
think so, but that voters for whom gay marriage is their top issue now
have two candidates with clearly different views.
But, Priebus said, “this election is still going to be about the economy and
whether or not this president fulfilled the promises he made to the American
people, which he clearly didn’t.”