PITTSBURGH (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he wanted an openly gay spokesman who resigned from the campaign to stay on.
In an interview Friday with Fox News, Romney said his campaign hires people "not based upon their ethnicity, or their sexual preference or their gender but upon their capability." He called the spokesman, Richard Grenell, a "capable individual" and said many senior campaign aides urged him not to leave.
Grenell was hired in late April to speak for Romney on national security and foreign policy issues.
A vocal supporter of gay marriage, which Romney opposes, Grenell resigned Tuesday after conservative critics raised questions about his sexual orientation. His departure also came after he was conspicuously absent from a week of campaign discussion dominated by national security issues, in part because of the one-year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden.
Grenell said in a statement that he felt his ability to do his job was "greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues."
His departure sparked an outcry among gay rights groups. Romney's comments were his first on the issue, and he did not hit back at Grenell's critics or defend him. He said it was Grenell's decision to leave the campaign.
In a separate appearance Friday on MSNBC, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom insisted that Romney previously had denounced the "voices of intolerance that expressed themselves during this debate."
At an appearance at the Values Voter Summit last October, Fehrnstrom said Romney "denounced some of the poisonous language that was being used by some of the same people" who criticized Grenell. At that conference, Romney criticized figures on the religious right who were attacking his Mormon faith, including evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress. At the time, Jeffress supported Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was running against Romney in the Republican presidential primary.
Romney also criticized Friday's unemployment report showing a drop to 8.1 percent in April, from 8.2 percent in March. That was partly because more people had stopped looking for work and the number of jobs created was lower than some economists had expected.
"It's a terrible and very disappointing report this morning. Clearly the American people are wondering why this recovery isn't happening faster, why it's taking years and years for the recovery to occur, and we seem to be slowing down, not speeding up. This is not progress," he said. "This is not good news this morning."