U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., tells Newsmax.TV that President Barack Obama only backed down from his administration’s controversial contraception mandate once it became a political hot potato.
“I think the president backed down because it became an election issue,” West declared in an exclusive interview on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. “First of all it’s not about contraception. It’s about First Amendment rights, about the freedom of religion and the expression thereof.”
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Obama backed away from the HHS mandate requiring faith-based institutions to provide their employees with health policies covering birth control, the morning-after pill, and sterilizations — things that the Catholic Church and other such organizations have long found morally objectionable.
“We don’t need to have a president that — based upon his own, or some other’s ideological agenda — trying to mandate something that goes contrary to the doctrines and principles that certain people have in their religious practices and beliefs,” West stressed.
Under the new plan, faith-based institutions will not be responsible for providing birth control, however women employed by organizations such as Catholic hospitals, schools or universities will still be able to get contraceptives from their insurance companies.
West questioned the president’s intentions after a senior Obama adviser attempted to position the change as an “accommodation” rather than a compromise.
“I don’t think this is sincere,” West said. “I think that this is a stop-gap measure to try to appease and accommodate, but you have to ask yourself: ‘first and foremost why would you even do it.’”
West also said that he believes the GOP presidential candidates should do more to distinguish themselves from the failed policies of the Obama administration.
“They are not drawing the complete contrast between the current vision that president Obama and others have for this country as opposed to what they should have,” West explains. “I think when we clearly state that, and articulate it, you get Americans to start to think about really what they want this country to be.”
The freshman congressman said that the record crowds at CPAC want to see passion and energy from the candidates. “I think they want to see their vision,” he said. “They want to see some passion. They want to see what do you believe makes America unique and exceptional.”
While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may be the current front-runner, West said that the race is still “fluid” and that former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum has been able to overcome Romney’s momentum following Romney’s back-to-back wins in Florida and Nevada.
“I think Rick Santorum is somewhat appealing as that ‘conservative alternative’ but can he extend that past just the social conservative issues of the religious base to really talk about fiscal conservatism? And he has a good national security message,” acknowledges West. “So now, it’s a matter: You know the spotlight’s on you. Can you endure that spotlight?”
West predicts that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will have an uphill battle. “We all knew that he had baggage going in here. Can he survive? As I said early on, can he fight with a 200-pound roughsack on his back? Some people can. Some people can’t,” said West, adding that Super Tuesday on March 6 will be an opportunity for all of the candidates to prove their viability going forward.
While Obama enjoyed overwhelming support from black voters in 2008, West believes that the president may not be able to count on that same level of support in 2012.
“Look, you’re seeing an incredibly high unemployment rate in the black community. I think the high point almost hit 17 percent. It was definitely not consistent with the lowering of the national average,” West said, adding that some black voters are undoubtedly disappointed.
“There are people out there that thought that manna would fall from heaven and if they don’t get that, they may not come back out,” said West.
His Republican colleagues will have to demonstrate that they represent a viable alternative to Obama with a clear vision, according to West. “I think that can happen as long as you show a viable alternative, as long as you show the contrast, as long as you show the difference between the two visions for this country,” he said, pointing to a late 2011 poll that showed Obama’s approval rating in the black community to have dipped to 58 percent from a high in the low-to-mid 80s.
With respect to his decision to switch congressional districts to boost his re-election chances, West said he had no alternative. “I would have been evaporated,” declared West, who now represents Florida’s heavily Democratic 22nd District, which is expected to become more Democratic under proposed redistricting maps.
West will move into the newly configured 18th District, which is a bit more Republican than Democratic.
West stopped short of saying that he was targeted by the Republican establishment in the boundary changes. “I think you’ve got to find the Republican establishment and ask them,” he said. “For whatever reason, I can’t understand it. Politics is a very nasty business.”
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