White House piles on Obama call for Romney to release tax forms

The White House on Friday piled on to the Obama campaign’s call for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to release more of his tax records.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said voters think transparency is “important” and a “relevant part of the debate” hours after the Obama campaign called on the presumptive GOP nominee to release five years of his tax records.

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“You all would think it was important,” Earnest told reporters at a briefing, calling the White House press corps “dogged advocates for transparency."

“I do think that voters do have an expectation about transparency that is important,” the White House spokesman added. “It is certainly a relevant part of the debate.”

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina earlier on Friday said the Obama campaign would quit calling for Romney to release more of his tax records if the Republican released five years of his returns.

“Gov. Romney apparently fears that the more he offers, the more our campaign will demand that he provide,” Messina wrote to Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades in a memo released to reporters.

“So I am prepared to provide assurances on just that point: If the governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more — neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign.”

Rhoades offered a quick response: No dice.

“It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Gov. Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending,” Rhoades wrote back to Messina on Friday. “If Gov. Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days.”

The tax fight between Romney and Obama re-emerged on Thursday after Romney said he had paid a 13 percent tax rate over the last 10 years. Romney’s comments came after weeks of pressure from Obama and Democrats, who believe talk of Romney’s wealth and taxes will hurt the Republican with voters.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been a key player in the debate. Reid said a business source had told him Romney had not paid taxes for a decade. Reid offered no evidence for his assertion, which was criticized by Republicans.

Separately, Earnest was asked when Obama might take questions from reporters at an official White House press conference. Obama hasn't fielded a question from a White House reporter at an official press conference in two months.

Earnest said he didn't have any scheduling announcements, but argued that Obama has “spent a lot of time answering questions from reporters all over the country,” including a “wide range of outlets.”

Obama has done a series of interviews lately. But reporters complain that he has fielded softball questions from the likes of People magazine and "Entertainment Tonight."