Obama aides say Rosen shows president will take on friends

Senior Obama aides say the president's criticism of Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen's comments shows he's willing to stand up to his friends, unlike Mitt Romney.

The argument from the aides is an effort to find a bright spot in the controversy over Rosen, who said Ann Romney had "never worked a day in her life." Rosen apologized for the comments on Thursday. 

Doing damage control, White House adviser David Plouffe and Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod made separate appearances Thursday night to contrast Obama’s public response to Rosen to Romney’s response to controversial comments made by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

“I think we have an obligation in politics and public life, when someone, even friends, say things that are inappropriate, to say so. In fact, in certain ways, when your friends say it, there is more of an obligation to do so,” Axelrod said on CNN.

“When people say things that are outrageous, you need to stand up," Plouffe said, separately on MSNBC.

The White House and Obama's campaign have done everything they can to distance themselves from Rosen. The campaign team has noted that Rosen is not a paid adviser, and Obama on Thursday hardly characterized Rosen as a friend. He said Rosen's comments were "an ill-advised statement by somebody on television."

“She actually is your employee, not ours. She works for CNN,” Axelrod told CNN’s John King. “She never has been [an operative for our campaign].”

A CNN spokeswoman told The Hill on Thursday, “Rosen, like all CNN contributors, is not a paid adviser to any political party or presidential campaign.”

In making his argument, Plouffe specifically pointed to last month’s controversy over Limbaugh, who called a Georgetown University law student a “slut” on air due to her testimony on the White House’s contraception mandate.

“It's not the language I would have used," Romney said of Limbaugh’s comment.

In contrast, the Obama administration was quick to “strongly condemn” what Rosen said, according to Plouffe. 

“I’ve been disappointed on the other side of the aisle just recently when Gov. Romney and others were not willing to stand up and denounce speech that most people would call inappropriate,” Axelrod said. “I thought we had an obligation to speak and speak very, very quickly to make clear that this didn’t reflect our point of view and that we thought Hilary should apologize.”

Rosen said on CNN Wednesday night that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney should not cite his wife as an influence on his economic policies toward women because Ann Romney — a mother of five — had “never worked a day in her life.”

Axelrod was quick to express disagreement with Rosen after the comment aired, and the next day the first lady, vice president and Obama all expressed disapproval.

"I don't have a lot of patience for commentary about the spouses of political candidates," Obama said Thursday. He urged Rosen to “rethink” the idea that being a stay-at-home mom isn’t “work.”

"Truth has never been an important attribute in the Romney campaign, apparently," Plouffe noted, slamming the campaign for seeking to tie Rosen to Obama by noting that she has visited the White House numerous times and advised the Democratic National Committee in the past.

The Romney campaign jumped on the controversy Thursday, defending Ann Romney — who went on TV to say her “career choice was to be a mother” — and making a play for the female voters whom recent polls have shown leaning in large numbers toward Obama.

Plouffe and Axelrod, speaking later in the evening, sought to quickly relegate the incident to the past.

"I think this is one of the rare times in modern politics that we have universal bipartisan agreement that those comments were inappropriate, so hopefully given that we can move on,” Plouffe said.