Bill Burton, the head of the super-PAC supporting President Obama’s reelection effort, said Thursday that while some of comedian Bill Maher's comments "were vulgar and inappropriate" he did not believe they were similar in tone to controversial statements last week by radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Maher, host of HBO's "Real Time," recently announced a $1 million donation to the Priorities USA group helmed by Burton. But conservatives have argued the group should return the donation because some of the comedian's past statements have been as controversial as remarks made by Limbaugh and denounced by the president and leading Democrats.
MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell asked Burton, a former Obama campaign press secretary, if that was a double standard, a charge Burton deflected by arguing that Maher was a comedian, not a political commentator.
“First of all, obviously, some of those things were vulgar and inappropriate and said over the course of years of a comedian’s life. It’s not language I would use or language we would use at Priorities USA," Burton said. “But the notion that there is an equivalence between what a comedian has said over the course of his career and what the de facto leader of the Republican Party said to sexually degrade a woman who led in a political debate of our time, is crazy.”
“There’s no just similarity about what Rush Limbaugh said, lying about the argument that Ms. Fluke was making — a law student at Georgetown — and what a comedian has said in the past,” he added.
Mitchell noted that Burton's tone was remarkably similar to Mitt Romney’s response that Limbaugh's comments were "not the language I would have used." But the former Obama aide responded by noting the GOP presidential hopeful had sought the endorsement of musician Ted Nugent, who has also made controversial remarks.
"If we want to have this debate where we’re stacking up what supporters of candidates have said over time, you know Mitt Romney begged Ted Nugent for his endorsement, and he gave it to him, and he embraced it, and his campaign was bragging about it,” Burton said.
Maher has come to Limbaugh's defense, saying Democrats looked petty by continuing to hammer the radio host over his remarks.
"Hate to defend Rush Limbaugh but he apologized, liberals looking bad not accepting. Also hate intimidation by sponsor pull out," Maher tweeted earlier this week.
Maher's program "Politically Incorrect" was canceled by ABC in the months after the 9/11 attacks when sponsors pulled their commercials. A controversy had developed around remarks Maher made about the hijackers involved in the attacks.
Burton said that, ultimately, the outrage over individual comments wasn't relevant to the presidential campaign.
"This is all distraction between some of the real differences in this race between Mitt Romney and President Obama on key issues. And that’s what’s important here. Where do they stand on contraception? What kind of Supreme Court justice is Mitt Romney going to put in place? An Antonin Scalia or an Elena Kagan? That’s the important [thing] here," Burton said.