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Another New York Times Reporter Comes to Obama's Defense on His Weakening of Welfare Reform

On Friday, New York Times political reporter Mark Landler pushed Bill Clinton as Barack Obama's hope to win the white working class, and dubiously defended the Obama administration's gutting of the welfare reform pushed by Republicans and signed by Clinton in 1996: "It’s the President’s Message, With President Clinton."

Former President Bill Clinton is not only campaigning for President Obama in his re-election bid. In a new 30-second commercial released on Thursday by the Obama campaign, he is practically channeling him.

"This is a clear choice,” Mr. Clinton says of the race between Mr. Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney. Describing the Republican economic blueprint as deregulation and tax cuts for the rich, Mr. Clinton says, “That’s what got us in trouble in the first place.”

His words could have been lifted from a recent commercial by Mr. Obama, called “The Choice,” in which the president presents himself as a defender of the middle class against predatory Republicans. Even the settings are similar: both men, seated in well-appointed rooms and wearing conservative suits, speaking straight to the camera.

It is the most visible effort yet by the last Democratic president in support of the current one — and it marks the beginning of a period of intensified engagement by Mr. Clinton, whose relationship with Mr. Obama has traveled from bitter antagonism to chilly distance to a cautious embrace. In two weeks, he will have the coveted role of placing Mr. Obama’s name into nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

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Mr. Clinton could help blunt what Obama campaign officials say is a calculated effort by Mr. Romney to peel working-class whites away from the president by suggesting, in recent ads, that Mr. Obama dismantled a central plank of Mr. Clinton’s welfare reform law that requires welfare recipients to work in return for benefits.

Although in the Obama ad, Mr. Clinton does not address that claim, which has been discredited by fact-checkers, he makes it clear that he believes Mr. Obama, not Mr. Romney, is the right choice to “rebuild America from the ground up.” Mr. Clinton’s words are intercut with images of a construction worker heaving a lunchbox out of a pickup truck and Mr. Obama talking to voters over a kitchen table (the same image appears in Mr. Obama’s ad).

But Republicans argue the Obama administration has unlawfully granted itself waiver authority over the work requirements, the heart of the law. My colleague Mark Hadro pointed to statements from Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation after the directive was released in July. Accusing Obama of having "gutted" welfare reform, Rector wrote "The new policy guts the federal work requirements that were the foundation of the reform law. The Obama directive bludgeons the letter and intent of the actual reform legislation."

Times reporter Trip Gabriel also defended Obama's welfare move in an August 8 story, writing that a Romney ad accusing Obama of having waived the work requirements "seemed a stretch even by the standards of 30-second political ads."