A top Mitt Romney aide repeatedly struggled to explain the candidate's stance on immigration on Tuesday, even as he attacked Newt Gingrich's position on the same topic.
At the AEI/Heritage Foundation debate in Washington D.C., Gingrich refused to support deporting the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
"I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families, and expel them," he said.
After the debate, Gingrich defended his position, telling CNN, "I can't imagine any serious person who will walk down the street, see someone they know for 20 years and say, 'You're leaving your family, you're leaving your church, you're leaving the community... and we are kicking you out forcibly.'"
The stance is unpopular with many in the Republican party and could cause the former House Speaker to take a hit in the polls.
In the spin room following the debate, Romney adviser and spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom took a shot at Gingrich's position.
"Newt Gingrich supported the 1986 amnesty act, and even though he conceded that was a mistake, he said that he was willing to repeat that mistake, by extending amnesty to immigrants who are illegally in the country today," Fehrnstrom told the Washington Examiner. "Mitt Romney is against amnesty, and Newt Gingrich made it very clear he was for amnesty."
When Examiner reporter Philip Klein asked whether the former Massachusetts governor believed in deporting undocumented immigrants, Fehrnstrom repeated, "He doesn't believe in granting them amnesty."
Asked again what Romney would do with immigrants who are currently living in the Unites States illegally, Fehrnstrom once more evaded the question. The back and forth repeated itself, and it was only after a sixth round of questioning that Fehrnstrom finally mentioned anything beyond the "amnesty" talking point.
"Well, if you cut off their employment, if they can't get work, if they can't get benefits like in state tuition, they will leave," he said.