The leadership aide argued that “February was a very different situation” than the current legal challenges and noted that Republicans were coming off a bruising fight over the payroll tax cut extension “and McConnell’s office was very happy to change the subject.”
Initially, Republicans felt like they were on the winning side of the issue as they pushed to define the conflict over the rule as an issue of religious freedom, not women’s health.
But after the Obama administration revised the rule to explicitly exempt churches from the rule and require insurance companies, instead of religious-affiliated employers, to offer birth control coverage, the issue lost altitude.
In addition, Democrats stepped up their attacks on the GOP, saying the party’s position undermined women’s access to health services.
“We learned our lesson from that. ... Now it’s jobs and the economy, jobs and the economy, jobs and the economy,” the leadership aide said.
Boehner’s positioning, too, appears to be at least partially a component of his determined effort to keep his Conference focused on jobs and the economy — not social issues.
For instance, following President Barack Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage earlier this month, Boehner repeatedly steered clear of becoming embroiled in a debate on the issue.
“The president and Democrats can talk about this all they want, but the American people are focused on jobs and the economy. ... I’m going to stay focused on jobs,” Boehner told reporters at one point this month.
So far, Democrats don’t seem particularly interested in rehashing the issue either, with Democratic leaders remaining mum. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who in February called GOP opposition to the rule a “vicious political attack” on women, dismissed the most recent lawsuit out of hand.
“The president’s approach is very, very respectful in a constitutional way of the role of churches” in society, Boxer said Tuesday.
Still, Blunt predicted the fight is far from over. Noting that all of the circuit courts are facing decisions on the rule’s constitutionality, he predicted the matter would quickly make it to the Supreme Court.
“This is not an issue that’s going to go away. ... It’s about religious freedom,” Blunt said. “I’m a Protestant. I don’t have any problem with contraception. I have a problem with the government forcing people who do think it’s wrong participating in it in some way.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.