ST. PAUL, Minn. — Republican Michele Bachmann says scrutiny of her husband is out of bounds as she seeks the Republican presidential nomination. But her rules have changed since she attacked Democrat Barack Obama over comments his wife made three years ago.
At the National Press Club on Thursday, Bachmann sidestepped a question about her views toward reparative therapy, a disputed treatment that seeks to help patients overcome homosexual urges. Bachmann co-owns with her husband Marcus a Christian-oriented counseling clinic where the treatment is offered.
"I am running for the presidency of the United States. My husband is not running for the presidency. Neither are my children. Neither is our business. Neither is our foster children," Bachmann said, standing a few feet from Marcus and two of their daughters.
The Minnesota congresswoman hasn't always adhered to the same wall of separation for candidate spouses, however.
Bachmann raised doubts about now-President Barack Obama's patriotism in 2008 and used comments from the candidate's wife, Michelle, to do it.
Michelle Obama drew conservative scorn over her assessment of America while campaigning in Wisconsin in February 2008.
"For the first time in my adult life," she said at the time, "I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback."
The remark caught on over the Internet and lingered throughout the campaign. During an MSNBC interview that October, Bachmann used the comment to make her point.
"Remember, it was Michelle Obama who said she's only recently proud of her country. And so these are very anti-American views," Bachmann said then.
Bachmann was a freshman in Congress at the time, and her comments ignited a liberal backlash. Nevertheless, she scraped out a narrow re-election victory against a Democratic challenger who cashed in on the controversy. Her national profile soared during that race and she launched her White House run after a convincing re-election win last year.
With polls showing her as a strong 2012 GOP contender, Bachmann has come under increased scrutiny.
Questions about the Bachmann clinic surfaced after a gay activist covertly taped sessions with a counselor who said the treatment would help build up the patient's desire for women. Marcus Bachmann was not shown in the video, but told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that such treatment is done "at the client's discretion."
In the presidential campaign, Bachmann has tried to keep her campaign focus on economic issues that resonate with her tea party base.
She mentions her record of backing abortion restrictions and opposing gay marriage. But she hasn't pushed such social issues with the same zeal as when she was a state senator. Bachmann's meteoric rise in Minnesota politics coincided with her forceful push for a gay marriage ban.
To be sure, the line of engagement with political spouses can be fuzzy.
Bachmann tangled with Michelle Obama earlier this year over public policy when the first lady promoted tax breaks for breast pumps for nursing mothers.
Bachmann argued that the IRS decision to classify breast pumps as deductible medical-care purchases was using the tax code "as social engineering" and labeling it part of a "nanny state" mentality. Bachmann noted that she breastfed her five children without help from the government.
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