July 11, 2008 -- 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.
The McCain campaign said that as a proponent of free-market principles, McCain opposes any legislation mandating health insurance coverage.
"He doesn't support mandates, including any for Viagra," a McCain campaign aide told ABC News.
McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said Fiorina was trying to explain that under McCain's proposed health insurance plan, he believes there will be more choice in the types of plans women could choose.
"An example is the choice for women to dump a policy that only covers Viagra for a policy that covers their real needs," Rogers said.
Seeing an opportunity to highlight what it calls McCain's "anti-choice, anti-abortion" record, Naral Pro-Choice America has posted on its blog a YouTube video of McCain's eight-second pause after being asked about Fiorina's comments.
"When it comes to choice, John McCain is trying to duck his abysmal record with the press and, it seems, his own advisers, too," Naral Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan said in a press release Tuesday.
Naral has also pointed reporters to a Fiorina quote in the San Francisco Chronicle Wednesday, assuring former Hillary Clinton supporters in Columbus, Ohio, that McCain "has never signed on to efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade," the Supreme Court decision affirming the right to abortion.
Those comments are in direct conflict with McCain's position, as laid out on the McCain Web site, that "John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned, and as president he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench."
Fiorina Angers Abortion Rights Groups
Naral Pro-Choice America argues Fiorina isn't being clear about McCain's positions on abortion, and couriered a handwritten note and a copy of McCain's 25-year congressional voting record to Fiorina this week at the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C.
"Even though McCain recently pledged his support and loyalty to the National Right to Life Committee and the group's quest to end abortion, his advisers are trying to paint a picture of McCain as a moderate on abortion," said Naral Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan.
In an attempt to draw attention to McCain's record on women's issues at a time when his campaign is heavily courting women voters, Naral e-mailed 30,000 of its most vocal supporters, urging them "to call on McCain to be clear about his anti-choice record."
ABC News' Lindsay Goldwert and Teddy Davis contributed to this report.