Mitt Romney’s campaign was unable to produce a clear answer after the debate on whether he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a recurring problem that goes back months. After the law was a main focus in Tuesday’s presidential debate, the specificity gap on Ledbetter between President Obama — who signed the law as one of his first acts as president — and Romney became almost comically pronounced.
Romney adviser Ed Gillespie told the Huffington Post after the debate that Romney opposed the passage of the bill, but would not repeal it.
A day later, he said something completely different to TPM.
“I was wrong when I said last night Governor Romney opposed the Lily Ledbetter act,” Gillespie said in a statement. “He never weighed in on it. As President, he would not seek to repeal it.”
That’s in keeping with Romney’s murky views on the Ledbetter law. For months, Romney has said he wouldn’t act to repeal the law — which passed over the opposition of many Republicans in 2009 — but has declined to say whether or not he would have signed it.
President Obama went after Romney in Tuesday’s debate specifically over his vague position on the bill, which makes it easier for women to sue employers over pay equity. Romney took a question from an audience member on pay equity, but pivoted to a discussion of his own hiring as governor, where he said he looked through “binders full of women” to find qualified applicants.
“I just want to point out that when Governor Romney’s campaign was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter bill, whether he supported it, he said, I’ll get back to you,” Obama said. “And that’s not the kind of advocacy that women need in any economy.”
Gillespie wasn’t the only Romney surrogate uncomfortable with the question. Former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, told TPM Tuesday night after the debate that she didn’t want to get into detail on Romney’s position because he’s “not going to have his campaign defined by what the Obama campaign wants to talk about.”
“Saying ‘will you sign this, would you support that,’ this is just a campaign tactic,” she said.
On Wednesday morning Paul Ryan, who voted against the law, told CBS News that he still stood by his position.
“The point is Lilly Ledbetter was not an equal pay law. It was about opening up the statute of limitations for lawsuits,” Ryan said.
As the president alluded to in the debate, this isn’t the first time Romney’s ambiguous Lilly Ledbetter position has been an issue. In April, Romney staff were unable to answer a reporter’s question on the campaign’s stance on the law. After Democrats and women’s groups pressed the issue, Romney’s campaign confirmed that he would not get rid of the law as president, but would not say whether or not he supported its passage.
Update 10/18: The confusion continues. An unnamed Romney adviser told CBS that Romney opposed at least portions of the bill, saying “every bill has certain aspects to it that people might find concerning but the equal pay for equal work part was of no concern.”
Update II, 10/18: Romney camp confirms to TPM that Gillespie’s walked back statement is still the campaign’s position.
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.