By Alicia M. Cohn - 09/17/12 05:30 PM EDT
President Obama on Monday sought to undercut Mitt Romney's argument that the president is soft on China, saying "you can talk a good game, or you can play one."
Obama is adding the new talking point to his campaign stump speech by touting the administration's newly filed trade enforcement case against China.
“And my experience has been waking up every single day doing everything I can to give American workers a fair shot in the global economy. When other countries don’t play by the rules, we’ve done something about it.”
The Obama administration on Monday filed a new World Trade Organization suit charging China provided illegal subsidies encouraging companies to ship auto parts manufacturing jobs overseas. Obama said this action directly affects American workers, including the many factory workers who vote in Ohio.
“Now, I understand my opponent has been running around Ohio claiming he’s going to roll up his sleeves and he’s going to take the fight to China," Obama said.
"Now here’s the thing: His experience has been owning companies that were called ‘pioneers’ in the business of outsourcing jobs to countries like China. He made money investing in companies that uprooted from here and went to China. Pioneers! Ohio, you can’t stand up to China when all you’ve done is send them our jobs."
Obama's campaign has already rolled out an aggressive push against Romney's argument that he will crack down on China's "unfair trade policies." The GOP nominee has promised to label the country a currency manipulator on the first day of his presidency. Romney and Obama are both running TV ads in Ohio on the topic.
The Obama administration's trade case against China argues Beijing provided at least $1 billion in subsidies from 2009 through 2011, giving its manufacturers an advantage over U.S. competitors.
China’s industry has steadily grown, with the value of its auto and auto parts exports rising from $7.4 billion in 2002 to $69.1 billion last year. China is the world’s fifth largest exporter of autos and auto parts, while the United States is the biggest market.
“The Obama administration is committed to protecting the rights of nearly 800,000 American workers in our $350 billion auto and auto parts manufacturing sector,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement announcing the case.
In a statement Monday, Romney called the administration's trade suit a “campaign season” move.
“President Obama has spent 43 months failing to confront China's unfair trade practices,” the Republican presidential nominee said.
“Campaign-season trade cases may sound good on the stump, but it is too little, too late for American businesses and middle-class families.”
The White House sought to get ahead of Romney's criticism.
“The president doesn’t believe that we should delay these kinds of important actions merely because we’re in the middle of a campaign,” White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, according to a press pool report.
“This is something that you can expect to hear the president talk about, and this is something you can expect to hear the president continue to do over the course of the next 50 days,” Earnest said.
“After all, it’s not as if because we’re in the midst of an election that we should just wait until next year to take these steps. Protecting the jobs of American workers, protecting the opportunities for American innovators is a top priority for the president. It has been since he took office and it is despite whatever claims are made by the president’s political opponents.”
Obama also used the electioneering criticism in his speech on Monday, looking to land a knockout blow in his counter-argument.
“We don’t need folks who during an election season are suddenly worried about unfair trade practices but before [it] were taking advantage of unfair trade practices,” he said.
The Romney campaign has denied claims that the former Massachusetts governor and CEO of Bain Capital outsourced jobs.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki, speaking to the same group of reporters Monday, charged that Romney has “a special kind of chutzpah that he is going to criticize the president on an issue that he has been such a strong advocate and fighter for.”
Obama hammered Romney on tax breaks and for the lack of specifics in his campaign speech, and touted his own record on China. Obama brought up criticism Romney leveled against the president in his 2010 book — for taking action early in his administration to impose a tariff against Chinese tire manufacturers.
Romney's campaign has called it a "political giveaway," not a consistent policy, saying Obama was siding with the unions.
“We’ve brought more trade cases against China in one term than the previous administration did in two — and in every case that’s been decided, we’ve won,” Obama said on Monday. “When Gov. Romney said stopping an unfair surge in Chinese tires would be bad for our workers, we did it anyway — and we got over 1,000 Americans back to work."
Obama upped the urgency of the upcoming election in the speech by pointing out that voters in Ohio can start sending in early ballots in 15 days.
“Ohio, starting on Oct. 2, you guys can start voting, and you’ve got a big choice to make,” he said, twice revving up the crowd enough to “boo” at Republicans and employing his new stump speech line: “Don’t boo, vote.”
— Vicki Needham contributed to this story