McCain Adviser Attempts to Clarify Viagra vs. Birth Control Comments

For the second time this week the McCain campaign tried to disentangle itself from embarrassing comments made by surrogates stumping for the Republican presidential candidate.

Earlier this week, Sen. John McCain rejected a statement by his top economics adviser, former Sen. Phil Gramm, who complained that America is "a nation of whiners" and the country is in a "mental recession."

McCain joked Thursday that Gramm, once touted as a possible Treasury secretary in a McCain administration, would make a good ambassador to Belarus.

Today the campaign tried to recover from a comment by Carly Fiorina, McCain's most visible woman surrogate and a possible vice presidential pick.

Fiorina, the former chief of Hewlett-Packard, left McCain speechless this week when she seemed to criticize health insurance companies for covering Viagra for men but not covering birth control for women -- a point made frequently by abortion rights groups.

"A real, live example, which I've been hearing a lot about from women: There are many health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won't cover birth-control medication. Those women would like a choice," Fiorina told reporters at a breakfast talk Monday hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, adding, "Those women would like a choice."

It was a curious statement from one of McCain's top surrogates, considering the Arizona Republican has voted twice against mandating insurance companies to provide coverage for birth control, once in 2003 and again in 2005. Sen. Barack Obama supports forcing health insurance to include coverage for birth control.

Attempting to clarify her remarks today on National Public Radio, Fiorina argued she had been responding to a question posed by a reporter about how much choice Americans want in selecting their health care plan.

"The reporter basically said people don't want a choice in their health insurance, they just want to be told what their health insurance plan is," Fiorina said today. "And I just reject that. I wasn't trying to make a veiled reference to the issue of pro-life or pro-choice."

Fiorina: 'McCain Won't Get Their Vote'

Asked where she stands on abortion, Fiorina said, "I personally happen to be pro-life. John McCain has a very long pro-life record, and he won't walk away from that record."

Fiorina, who was listed as one of the nation's 30 most powerful women in business by Forbes magazine before she was ousted as chief of HP in 2005, said she believes women who view abortion rights as their single-most important issue won't vote for McCain.

"For those women who are a single-issue voters on the subject of abortion, John McCain won't get their vote, and I accept that," Fiorina said.

When asked about Fiorina's initial comments on Viagra and birth control, McCain said Wednesday, "I certainly do not want to discuss that issue."

Appearing speechless, McCain paused for eight seconds before answering, "I don't know enough about it to give you an informed answer because I don't recall the vote, I've cast thousands of votes in the Senate, but I will respond to you," he said. "It's a choice -- I hadn't thought much about it but I did hear her [Fiorina's] response, but I hadn't thought much about it."

The McCain campaign told ABC News today that Fiorina's comments did not indicate a reversal of the Arizona senator's opposition to mandates on health insurance companies.

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