This story has been updated.
House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) on Tuesday escalated the debate over Mitt Romney’s private equity background, arguing in an interview on MSNBC that the presumptive GOP nominee had been involved in “raping companies” during his tenure at Bain Capital.
“This is not an attack on free enterprise,” Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, said of the Obama campaign’s criticism of some aspects of Romney’s Bain record. “I don’t take contributions from payday lenders. ... I refuse to do that, and that’s free enterprise. But there’s something about that enterprise that I have a problem with. And there’s something about raping companies and leaving them in debt and setting up Swiss bank accounts and corporate businesses in the Grand Caymans — I have a real serious problem with that.”
Clyburn’s statement had echoes of the Obama camp’s TV ad slamming Romney for previously having a Swiss bank account. It also is in step with Obama’s Monday night defense of his campaign’s Bain attacks; the president argued at a Chicago news conference that some in private equity “do good work” in that area but that “their priority is to maximize profits, and that’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers.”
Later Tuesday afternoon, the Obama camp rejected Clyburn’s remarks.
“We strongly disagree with Congressman Clyburn’s choice of words- they have no place in this conversation,” Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said. “But we do believe that Mitt Romney should come clean about his record as a corporate buyout specialist and how, contrary to his claims of creating jobs, his focus was on reaping quick profits for investors at the expense of workers and middle class families.”
Whether or not Democrats’ nuanced argument when it comes to free enterprise will resonate with voters on the campaign trail remains an open question.
The Romney camp has defended the former Massachusetts governor’s record at Bain, contending that the firm helped companies save jobs 80 percent of the time and accusing Democrats of “cherry picking” the few examples of failure.
Democrats continue to have an intraparty debate over whether Bain should be out-of-bounds in the campaign. Clyburn argued Tuesday that Romney’s private-equity background is not only fair game, but it is “fundamental to the campaign.”
“This is this man’s resume,” Clyburn argued. “This is what he holds out to the American people. I would like to ask my friends, what are we supposed to be comparing President Obama to if we don’t compare it to the record that this man has with Bain Capital? He won’t talk about his Massachusetts governorship.”