By Amie Parnes - 08/20/12 07:10 PM EDT
President Obama on Monday said his campaign attacks on Mitt Romney don’t “go out of bounds,” disputing Republican claims that he’s running a negative campaign.
In an unexpected news conference, Obama defended his campaign as merely highlighting the “sharp differences” between himself and Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
In a wide-ranging, 20-minute session, Obama said he didn’t approve a recent super-PAC ad that suggested his opponent had a hand in the death of a steelworker’s wife.
“I don’t think Governor Romney was somehow responsible for the death of that women,” Obama said.
The Romney campaign has hit Obama hard over the super-PAC ad, which has yet to be put in rotation on television.
The commercial suggests Romney is responsible for the death of the wife of a construction worker who lost his job and health insurance after an investment in his company by Bain Capital, Romney’s private-equity firm, went bad.
The commercial doesn’t say that Romney left daily work at Bain long before the incident, and that the man’s wife had her own health insurance, which she later lost. It also doesn’t mention that she died five years after the construction worker lost his job, and instead suggests it occurred “a short time” after the job was lost.
Obama’s campaign says the president has been the victim of misleading Romney ads, particularly when it comers to Obama’s position on welfare reform. That’s a point Obama addressed on Monday.
“You’ve got Gov. Romney creating as a centerpiece of his campaign that we’re taking the work requirement out of welfare,” Obama said, before adding, “You can’t just make stuff up.”
Obama said his campaign wasn’t suggesting that Romney had been acting illegally.
“There’s a difference between playing by the same set of rules and doing something illegal,” he said. “In no way have we suggested the latter.”
The Romney campaign fired back immediately after the press conference, accusing Obama of “falsely” alleging that no one in his campaign had accused Romney of committing a crime.
The campaign was referring to a line by a senior Obama campaign aide that suggested Romney was misrepresenting his position at Bain Capital to the SEC, which the aide called a "felony."
But Obama maintained on Monday that “Nobody accused Mr. Romney of being a felon.”
The Romney campaign wasn't buying it.
“After spending weeks refusing to denounce his Super PAC’s scurrilous ad against Mitt Romney, President Obama once again failed to lead. Worse yet, the President falsely alleged no one in his campaign had accused Mitt Romney of committing a crime,” said Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman. “President Obama’s failure to stand up to dishonest rhetoric and attacks demonstrates yet again he’s diminished the office that he holds and his record is nothing more than business as usual in Washington.”
Obama on Monday accused Romney of being out of touch with average Americans, something he and Vice President Biden have tried to hammer home in recent months to the small slice of independent voters still up for grabs.
Obama said Romney has “used Swiss bank accounts, for example.
“That may be perfectly legal, but I suspect if you ask the average American,” even if they wouldn’t have one themselves, they “would find that relevant information.”
“I think the idea that this is somehow exceptional, that there should be a rationale or a justification for doing more than the very bare minimum has it backwards,” Obama said. “The assumption should be you do what previous candidates have done dating back decades. ... Everybody’s followed that custom ever since.
“If you want to be president of the United States,” Obama added, “your life’s an open book when it comes to things like your finances.
“This is pretty standard stuff, guys. I don’t think we’re being mean.”
In the press conference, Obama also fielded other questions on the situation in Afghanistan and Syria, saying that the use of chemical weapons in the country would be a “red line” for military action by the United States.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” he said. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."
Obama has been criticized in recent days for not taking questions from the press corps, fueling his surprise visit to the briefing room on Monday.
As he took to the podium, he quipped that White House press secretary Jay Carney “tells me you guys have been missing me.”
—This story was updated at 3:34 p.m.