Gov. Brian Sandoval found himself in the middle of the latest White House campaign conflict on Tuesday, with a letter his administration wrote last year being used to defend the president against a Mitt Romney broadside.
Sandoval’s human services chief, Mike Willden, penned a letter last August (posted at right) in which he said Nevada is “very interested in working with your staff to explore program waivers …” on welfare (in Nevada, so-called TANF programs).
But after presidential spokesman Jay Carney invoked the Sandoval administration letter in today’s press briefing to help parry Romney’s charge that the administration was issuing a blank check without work requirements, the governor’s spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner told me, “Nevada hasn’t requested a waiver and has no intention of requesting one. As you’ve seen from the letter, Nevada HHS responded to U.S. HHS by providing comments on a solicitation with ideas to discuss. The letter was not a request for a waiver; it was a request to explore the possibilities."
Kinner also told POLITICO, “The Obama Administration's attempt to portray Nevada's comments as anything more than an attempt to increase efficiency and improve outcomes for our programs is a gross mischaracterization to advance its own agenda.” (Here’s the POLITICO story by Byron Tau.)
The White House loved that quote, as Carney provided me with this rejoinder: "We agree with the Sandoval Administration: any attempt to characterize this policy as 'as anything more than an attempt to increase efficiency and improve outcomes for our programs is a gross mischaracterization.'"
That is, Carney is saying: See, Mitt, Gov. Sandoval agrees with us that you are misrepresenting what we are trying to do.
It’s tough not to find this delicious as Sandoval is being used by the president to needle the guy the governor endorsed, albeit belatedly. But this is going to keep happening, I’d guess, to Sandoval. The governor is no rabid partisan — he has a hard time faking it — and instead sees himself as a problem-solver, as does the estimable Willden, who I’ve always thought would like to explore the possibility of waivers — as that August 2011 letter clearly indicates.
Below is Carney’s invoking of Sandoval during the briefing:
Q: On a separate topic, the Romney campaign is out with a new ad accusing the president of gutting welfare reform, essentially saying that the administration has turned into a blank check for states without any work requirements. From a policy standpoint, does the White House feel that offering these states this flexibility has somehow undermined the work requirement?
MR. CARNEY: From a policy standpoint, let me say that this advertisement is categorically false and it is blatantly dishonest. This administration’s policy will strengthen the program by giving states the opportunity to employ more effective ways to help people get off welfare and into a job. Under this policy, governors must commit that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people — more people — from welfare to work. And as we have made very clear under our policy, any request from any state that undercuts the work requirement in welfare reform will be rejected.
Now, the ad is particularly outrageous as Governor Romney himself, with 28 other Republican governors, supported policies that would have eliminated the time limits in the welfare reform law and allowed people to stay on welfare forever. Those are not standards the President supports.
It is also worth remembering that this waiver policy that we’re discussing was specifically requested by two Republican governors — Governor Herbert of Utah and Governor Sandoval of Nevada — two men, I think you know, who are supporters of Governor Romney. And I don’t think if you ask them — and I suggest you do — that they believe that their interest in these waivers was guided by a desire to undermine work requirements. Their interest in these waivers was to achieve more flexibility for their states, to innovate and to move more people from work to welfare [welfare to work]. That’s the purpose of this policy.