Gibbs won’t condemn ad linking Romney to woman’s death

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Senior Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs on Wednesday refused to condemn a controversial super-PAC ad featuring a steelworker who said he could not pay for his wife’s cancer treatments after his company was bought by Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney, and closed.

Gibbs said he did not "know the specifics" of the story in the ad during a contentious interview on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" and said the campaign had no control over the ad from the pro-Obama Priorities USA super-PAC.

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“This is an ad by an entity not controlled by the campaign. I certainly don’t know the specifics of this man’s case. I do think there is a lot of concern in the country about what happens when people lose their jobs — we know that when they lose their jobs, because of most of where people get their healthcare provided for is in their jobs, they do also lose their healthcare,” said Gibbs.

Pressed on the ad by others on the show’s panel, Gibbs said the video was highlighting voters’ real fears about healthcare and the economy. 

“I know there’s huge anxiety in this country about losing healthcare. I know there’s huge anxiety in this country about how people pay for college. I don’t know the specifics. I do know this. You have a pattern of companies that were bought by Bain, that were loaded up with debt, heavily leveraged. Bain got paid; Bain always got paid hundreds of millions of dollars, in many instances, and these companies went bankrupt and when a company goes bankrupt like that somebody hands you a piece of paper that says you lost your job, you lost your healthcare."

Gibbs was asked by Time reporter Mark Halperin what specifics he would need to know before he would be willing to judge the ad.

“I don’t know the instances of what her healthcare covered. I don’t know whether her insurance company approved every treatment. I don’t know any of the dealings with the insurance company,” Gibbs responded.

He declined to say if the Obama campaign would criticize ads form super-PACs if it found them factually inaccurate or unfair.

“I think people will decide if it’s factual. If the ad’s not true, Mark, one, it’s not going to be effective, and two, if it’s not true, it shouldn’t be running. One thing I’m not going to do is get into super-PACs and have some lawyer explain to me ‘coordination.’ ”

The ad from Priorities USA is part of a $20 million blitz hammering Romney on his business record at Bain Capital, but it is unclear if the ad is running on television.

In the ad Joe Soptic, a former worker for GST Steel, says he could not afford healthcare after he lost his job. GST Steel was purchased by Bain Capital in the 1990s and went bankrupt in 2001. The plant’s workers were fired and lost their jobs and benefits.

“When Mitt Romney closed the plant, I lost my healthcare and my family lost its healthcare and a short time after that my wife became ill. I don’t know how long she was sick, and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew we couldn’t afford the insurance,” Soptic says in the ad. “And one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and that’s when they found the cancer. And by then it was stage four and there was nothing they could do for her and she passed away in two days.

“I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to anyone, and furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned,” Soptic says as the ad concludes.

The Romney campaign was quick to blast the ad yesterday, saying Obama’s allies were “using discredited and dishonest attacks in a contemptible effort to conceal the administration’s deplorable economic record.”

Media reports said that Soptic’s wife, Renae Soptic, died in 2006, five years after he lost his job at GST Steel, and that she might have had health insurance through her own provider.

Gibbs also hammered a Romney campaign ad accusing Obama of “gutting” welfare reform.

“Let's get to an ad we know the Romney campaign is entirely responsible for. There’s a new ad out …. you would believe that Barack Obama has actually taken away the work requirement for welfare reform. Do you think that’s a factual ad? A true ad? There is not an independent person — not one person has looked at that ad and said it’s remotely substantially true,” he said.