It's not every day that you see Jay Carney quoting Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney from the White House podium.
But that's what Carney did Thursday as reporters pressed for the president's reaction to the Affordable Care Act heading to the Supreme Court before the 2012 election amid questions about its constitutionality.
Carney's quoting served the dual purpose of defending the president and trying to drive a wedge between Romney and some of his Republican rivals, who have charged that the former Massachusetts governor's health reform law on the state level bears too much of a resemblance to the plan that conservatives derisively call "Obamacare."
"A former governor of Massachusetts just said the other day, 'The idea for a health care plan in Massachusetts was not mine alone,'" Carney said, reading from notes as he continued quoting Romney. "'The Heritage Foundation, a great conservative think tank, helped on that. I'm told that Newt Gingrich, one of the very first people who came up with the idea of an individual mandate, did that years and years ago. It was seen as a conservative idea to say, you know what, people have a responsibility for caring for themselves if they can. We'll help people who can't care for themselves, but if you can care for yourself, you've got to take care of yourself and pay your own bills.'"
Without ever mentioning Romney by name, Carney concluded, "That's the former governor of Massachusetts describing the individual mandate and why it's smart policy, and we certainly agree."
Romney, who leads the Republican challengers in the latest Fox News poll, has consistently tried to distance his health care plan from the president's and has repeatedly tried to raise doubts that the White House modeled their plan on his by noting they never reached out for his advice.
"Why didn't any one of them or the president ever call me and say 'what worked, what didn't?'" Romney said of Democratic leaders in April on CNBC's "The Kudlow Report." "Why didn't he pick up the phone?"
Romney added in that April interview that if such a phone call had taken place he would have advised the president, "What you're putting in place at the nation is not only unconstitutional, it's bad law, it will not work."
The White House on Wednesday asked the high court to hear a challenge on what the Obama administration considers their crowning accomplishment of universal health care. The administration wants the case heard regarding the legality of the individual mandate, the requirement to purchase coverage. "We look forward to the legal review that upholds the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act," Carney told reporters.
Carney even injected some humor when a reporter queried whether or not the president is "disappointed" that his big legislative achievement is now going to the high court and "could potentially become a pretty divisive issue" in 2012. "Potentially becoming a divisive issue?" Carney asked to laughter in the briefing room.
Fox's Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry contributed to this report.