One day after dueling interviews by the presidential candidates on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Mitt Romney was seeking to capitalize on President Obama’s remarks on foreign policy, while the White House was trying to keep the issue of Romney’s tax returns alive with a new TV ad.
In an interview with ABC News in Denver on Monday, Romney was quick to take aim at Obama for responding to a question from “60 Minutes” host Steve Kroft about the unrest in the Middle East by saying that he had been expecting “bumps in the road” all along.
“Well, I think the president’s comments on ‘60 Minutes’ last night were quite revealing,” Romney said, according to a rush transcript of his remarks. “His indication that developments in the Middle East represent ‘bumps in the road’ is a very different view than I have. . . . I can’t imagine saying something like the assassination of ambassadors is a bump in the road.”
Added Romney: “When you look at the entire context — the assassination; the Muslim Brotherhood president being elected in Egypt; 20,000 people killed in Syria; Iran close to becoming a nuclear nation — these are far from being bumps in the road. They represent events that are spinning out of the kind of influence we’d like to have. We’re at the mercy of events rather than shaping the events in the Middle East.”
On a Romney campaign conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) echoed that criticism, casting the recent events as part of “a pattern here that the U.S. finds itself on the receiving end and on the defensive in the Middle East.”
Cantor argued that Obama’s decision to make an appearance on ABC’s “The View” and his lack of any bilateral meetings with foreign leaders at the United Nations this week shows “a lack of willingness to lead in times of trouble.”
“There is a somewhat continued pattern of throwing Israel under the bus,” he added.
At Monday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was repeatedly asked about the comment as well as a remark by Obama in the “60 Minutes” interview that he’s “going to block out any noise that’s out there” regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel. Some Republicans have sharply criticized Obama’s handling of relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The president, as you know, is not minimizing what we all recognize as historic transformations taking place,” Carney said, referring to Obama’s “bumps in the road” comment. And in a counterpunch to the Romney camp, Carney later added: “I understand that Republicans in this case are searching for reeds to grab on to, but I think the president’s views on these matters are very clear and very strong.”
Polling has suggested that Obama has the advantage over Romney on foreign policy. A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted this month, before the attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt, showed that 39 percent of likely voters trust the president “a lot” to handle an international crisis, while just 26 percent said the same of Romney.
Perhaps sensing an opening, however, Republicans in recent weeks have been doubling down on their criticism of the president’s foreign policy. The Romney campaign also is seeking to ramp up pressure on Obama with the release of its second China-themed TV ad in recent weeks.
“Obama had years to stand up to China. We can’t afford four more,” the ad’s narrator intones.
Democrats meanwhile, attacked Romney’s “60 Minutes” comments related to his tax returns and his decision not to give specifics regarding what tax loopholes he would seek to close as president.
“I saw Governor Romney last night on ‘60 Minutes,’ and once again he laid out his basic view — $5 trillion in tax cuts,” Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said Monday in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“Actually, he didn’t lay them out, but this is what they are; $5 trillion dollars in tax cuts, $2 trillion in additional defense spending, no plan to pay for them, on top of the deficits we already have,” Axelrod said. “So, I’m happy to match our specifics with those on the other side.”
Romney said on “60 Minutes” that when it comes to his tax proposal, “the devil’s in the details; the angel is in the policy, which is creating more jobs.”
Axelrod’s comments are in line with a new Obama campaign ad that again criticizes Romney for not releasing more of his tax returns.
In the “60 Minutes” interview, Romney defended his federal income tax rate, which at about 14 percent is lower than the rate paid by many Americans.
“It is a low rate,” Romney said. “And one of the reasons why the capital gains tax rate is lower is because capital has already been taxed once at the corporate level, as high as 35 percent.”
“So you think it is fair?” host Scott Pelley asked.
“Yeah, I think it’s — it’s the right way to encourage economic growth, to get people to invest, to start businesses, to put people to work,” Romney said.
Romney also dismissed the notion that his campaign is struggling.
“Well, it doesn’t need a turnaround,” Romney said. “We’ve got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States. . . . I’ve got a very effective campaign. It’s doing a very good job. But not everything I say is elegant. And I want to make it very clear. I want to help a hundred percent of the American people.”
In his “60 Minutes” sit-down, Obama defended his record in office, contending that “what we’ve done has been effective” and taking aim at a Republican Party whose main objective, he said, has been “beating me as opposed to helping the American people.” He also echoed an argument he made last week that to enact change in Washington, outside pressure from the public is needed.
“I won’t get them to — make them change their minds,” Obama said when asked how he planned to come to an agreement with Republicans on reducing the nation’s debt. “The American people will. I mean, ultimately, the American people agree with me that the only way we bring down our deficit is to do it in a balanced way.”
Obama surrogates also noted that a Romney statement that the uninsured should go to hospital emergency rooms for health care stood in contrast to remarks Romney had made in 2010, when he said in an MSNBC interview that one objective of his Massachusetts health-care law was to bring down the number of people going to emergency rooms.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to have millions and millions of people who have no health insurance and yet who can go to the emergency room and get entirely free care for which they have no responsibility,” Romney said then.
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.