08/29/2012 03:13 pm ET

Newt Gingrich Says Interviewer Cornered Him On Welfare Attacks

TAMPA, Fla. -- Newt Gingrich said Wednesday that Mitt Romney's attack on President Barack Obama's welfare policy highlights "a devastatingly bad issue for Democrats."

Romney has repeatedly claimed, in interviews and campaign ads, that the president has ended welfare's work requirements. The charge is false. Instead, in July, the administration invited states to apply for a waiver from certain welfare strictures if they could commit to increasing employment among their welfare recipients by 20 percent. The invitation was offered after several governors, including two Republicans, asked for such flexibility.

Gingrich challenged the accuracy of Romney's attacks when they first began, but has since backed off and supported his party's presidential nominee. "It was one interview where the interviewer worked overtime to get me to say, 'Gee, he could have said it better.' I have actively supported them. I have the same position that [Rick] Santorum said last night. I helped write the bill," Gingrich told HuffPost Wednesday.

The 1996 welfare reform "specifically says the president cannot waive the requirement. We put it in deliberately. And Obama in my judgment has broken the law. It's a devastatingly bad issue for Democrats, which is why you see some of the people on the left going crazy," the former House speaker said.

Romney aides have defended the ads by arguing that the Obama campaign did worse with an ad accusing Romney of possibly committing a felony by failing to accurately disclose his finances as required by election law. Now Gingrich is accusing the president of law breaking.

HuffPost asked why the conservative movement's traditional embrace of federalism and states' rights was trumped in this case. Gingrich answered that Congress made the work requirement inflexible because legislators worried about giving liberal governors room to maneuver.

"In this particular case, since we're paying the money, we took the position very deliberately in 1996 that we distrusted liberal states with liberal governors who we believed would immediately waive the work requirement," he said.

But the welfare law isn't written as clearly as the attacks suggest. The workforce participation rate rules, which are specifically not waivable, appear in Section 407 of the law. But the work requirement is introduced in Section 402, which is waivable per Section 1115.

Romney claimed earlier this week in a USA Today interview that Obama's welfare policy was intended to "shore up his base" -- a message stained with racial undertones.

Gingrich said that he agreed with Romney's political analysis, but added that the media misunderstood which element of the base the candidate was referring to.

"I believe that," Gingrich said. "Although I think the press misunderstood it. The people this appeals to are not the poor. The people this appeals to are ideological liberals."



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