GOP Gov. McDonnell warns Santorum not to demean military women

Virginia's Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell on Monday warned Rick Santorum against demeaning women in the military, following controversial remarks made by the Republican presidential candidate last week.

“I like Rick Santorum a lot, I just disagree with any inference that he might have made that somehow women aren't capable of serving on the front lines and serving in combat positions,” McDonnell told CNN.

ADVERTISEMENT
"I do have concerns about women in frontline combat," Santorum told CNN last Thursday, responding to the Obama administration’s decision to allow women to serve closer to the front lines. "I think that could be a very compromising situation where people naturally, you know, may do things that may not be in the interests of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved."

McDonnell also appeared to be indirectly addressing Santorum's comments in his speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. He described his daughter’s military service and incidents where he knew she came under enemy attack while serving as a platoon leader in Iraq.

“I did get a little bit emotional, but she didn’t,” McDonnell said in the speech, without referring to the former Pennsylvania senator. “She got the job done.”

Earlier in the day on Friday, Santorum had sought to clarify that the “emotions” he referred to were both male and female.

"The other example is the emotions of men, dealing with women in combat, and having men not focusing potentially on the mission but on the natural instinct to protect someone that's a female," he told CNN. He also referred to the reduced “physical capabilities” of women compared to men in the military, in cases where one might be injured and require help retreating from the front lines.

“I accept the senator's explanation, if that's what he meant,” McDonnell said. “There was at least an inference to the contrary: That women aren't up to speed and aren't capable of leading, and that I absolutely disagree with.”

McDonnell called the controversy a “sub-issue” in the election, and maintained that he likes Santorum and all the other GOP candidates. McDonnell has endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination.

“I just wanted to make sure people didn't think women aren't capable of doing the job,” McDonnell said. He added that he didn’t talk to his daughter about Santorum’s comments or his own “a whole lot.”

“I think she probably has experienced some of those kinds of comments in the past, that somehow women in leadership positions in the military aren't as much up to the job,” he said. “She doesn't pay any attention to that, and I think most women in leadership positions don't; they just go forward and lead and do well and serve our country in its highest tradition.”