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'I'm not for the bill'

<p>The Senate is likely to vote today on the anti-contraception Blunt Amendment, championed by Missouri Sen.</p>

The Senate is likely to vote today on the anti-contraception Blunt Amendment, championed by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt (R), which would allow all private-sector employers to deny any health services that businesses might find morally objectionable. Despite the controversy surrounding the measure, Mitt Romney hadn't taken a position on the bill.

Yesterday, that changed. Jim Heath, a reporter with the Ohio News Network, asked the Republican presidential candidate about the anti-contraception proposal, and got an unexpected response.

It was pretty straightforward. Heath even explained what he was referring to: "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 [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 said, "I'm not for the bill," and proceeded to argue that presidential candidates shouldn't get into "questions about contraception."

For all of the shameless pandering Romney has done to the far-right Republican base, this unambiguous answer appeared to reflect remarkable bravery on the candidate's part. Republicans have been hyperventilating for weeks about the issue, and here was the likely GOP presidential nominee announcing, on camera, his opposition to his party's legislative remedy.

Like too many of Romney's positions, it didn't last.

Just one hour after saying he's "not for" the Blunt Amendment, the presidential hopeful announced, "Of course I support the Blunt Amendment." Romney added that he "didn't understand" Heath's question, and his campaign spokesperson issued a statement, complaining that the question was "confusing."

As the afternoon progressed, Romney backers even began complaining that reports documenting the candidate's actual words were somehow unfair -- as if quoting what presidential candidates say on television is now evidence of irresponsible reporting.

If we're being charitable, we can note that Heath's question combined measures from Blunt and Marco Rubio, which is mistaken -- they're two separate proposals -- but that hardly explains Romney's bizarre dissembling. The reporter explained what the measure is about; Romney said he's against it; and then Romney said he's for it.

Indeed, the explanation is incoherent. When Romney said, "I'm not for the bill," what bill was he referring to? If he was confused, why not ask for clarification? From Romney's own perspective, was he announcing his opposition to a proposal he knew nothing about?

The whole afternoon became a multi-tiered mess. First, Romney took a position wholly at odds with his party's base. Second, within an hour, he flip-flopped, reinforcing one of his most glaring weaknesses.

And third, while Romney had successfully steered clear of the odious Blunt Amendment, he was forced to offer his enthusiastic support for the proposal, putting him on record endorsing a right-wing plan that could allow employers to cut off everything from contraception to STD screenings, prenatal care to mental health coverage.

If self-inflicted wounds were an Olympic sport, Romney would be a gold medalist.