CHARLOTTE — In one of the most pointed moments of President Clinton’s Wednesday speech to the Democratic National Convention, he slammed the Romney campaign for lying in ads and statements by claiming President Obama “gutted” work requirements in his own welfare reform law.
The former president’s evisceration of that attack, which features prominently in GOP campaign ads and has been savaged by independent fact-checks, comes as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are doubling down on it.
In an interview with FOX News Wednesday ahead of Clinton’s speech, Romney fiercely defended the attack and specifically accused Obama of using it to rile up “his base.”
“Well, I’m not sure exactly what President Clinton will say, but there’s no question that President Obama’s decision to say that we’re going to allow waivers or excuses from work requirements in welfare was designed to shore up part of his base that may not be inclined to go out and vote in the same kind of energy and passion as they did four years ago,” Romney said.
Even granting Romney’s false assumption that Obama is gutting work requirements, it’s unclear how doing so would work to shore up his “base.”
The changes to the welfare law in question were little-known before Romney made them the No. 1 issue in his campaign ads, so the notably undefined “base” had little news to get fired up over.
Even if Obama supporters did learn about the changes, Romney’s own version of events admits that states have to request waivers to modify the work requirement (the White House says they must show a 20 percent improvement in moving people to jobs to receive approval). So far no states have asked to remove their work requirements and hand people free checks, the exact claim Romney makes in his ads. What would this purported “base” of non-working welfare recipient voters have to be so excited about?
Romney wasn’t the only one to bring up the welfare charges, which were largely left unmentioned at the Republican convention, in recent days. Ryan brought it up in order to make the case that Obama is a traitor to Clinton’s legacy the same day Clinton fired up the convention by arguing that the current president is his truest heir.
“By the way, under President Clinton, we got welfare reform … which moved people from welfare to work, to get people out of poverty,” Ryan said at a rally in Iowa. “President Obama is rolling back welfare reform.”
Clinton, who had already criticized the welfare attacks, devoted a significant section of his speech to debunking the claim, which he said “is personal to me.”
“[Romney’s] pollster said, ‘We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,’” Clinton said in his address. “Finally, I can say, that is true.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.