CNN Host Schools Romney Campaign Chair Over False Welfare Reform Attacks

Romney campaign chair John Sununu

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has flooded the airwaves with advertisements criticizing the Obama administration’s changes to the 1996 welfare reform law, accusing the administration of “gutting welfare reform” and removing the work requirements the law mandates. The ads are blatantly false, a point noted by independent fact-checkers, multiple media outlets, and even the newspaper cited in one of the ads.

This afternoon on CNN, Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer took Romney campaign chairman John Sununu to task over the false ads, reading directly from the Dept. of Health and Human Services directive that outlines the waiver program and the letters from Republican governors who asked for the waivers:

BLITZER: I’ll read to you, governor, the precise language from the Health and Human Services memo outlining what the states who seek this flexibility, and you were once a governor, and I’ll read to you what it says. It says the Department of Health and Human Services will only consider approving waivers relating to the work participation requirements that make changes intended to lead to more effective means of meeting the work of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The secretary will not approve a waiver for an initiative that substantially likely to reduce access for assistance or employment for needy families.

SUNUNU: That’s correct.

BLITZER: They’re not going to approve anything unless it leads to greater opportunities for moving people from welfare to work.

SUNUNU: Look, to quote the president who signed the bill, it depends on what your definition of access is and expands is and background discussions were. The background discussions talked about broadening it to the point where you soften the hard reality of the work requirement. […]

BLITZER: I don’t know, governor, if you’ve actually read the letters from the governors’ offices from Utah and Nevada, which I have here in front of me.

SUNUNU: I only heard their comments. I have not read their letters.

BLITZER: You should read the letters. Because I’ve read them in depth. […]

BLITZER: We’ll make sure we’re precise. on this one, governor, on this — hold on a second. Hold on one second. On this one it’s not just CNN. It’s every major fact checking organization out there says he has not — has not gutted, has not gutted by any means the work requirements.


Sununu isn’t the first Republican to struggle to defend the false attacks on television. Last week, MSNBC host Chuck Todd called out Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) for defending the ads. Todd noted the same directives and letters Blitzer cited to make the case, and Branstand was unable to defend Romney’s stance.

The proposed changes, it bears noting, are being made because the 1996 welfare reform law, which celebrated its 16th birthday today, has failed to help many of the neediest Americans. The law may be an “unprecedented success” in the eyes of the Romney campaign, but the reality is that it achieved much of its reductions to welfare by kicking people out of the program, not by getting them jobs.