Senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod on Sunday punched back at Republicans who have seized on the president's remarks that "the private sector is doing fine," arguing that the GOP was trying to distract from the president's jobs plan.
"They're more eager to have a debate over an out-of-context clause in his remarks than the substance of what he said," Axelrod said on CNN's "State of the Union."
Axelrod repeatedly parlayed questions about whether the private sector economy was "fine," conceding only that "it's certainly doing better than the public sector." Later, the former White House official said the tax and jobs plans advocated by the president would help stimulate the economy in both the private and public sector.
"That'll help accelerate the recovery. The small business tax cut will help the private sector. The refinancing will help the private sector. There's a series of steps we can take right now to undergird the economy," Axelrod said.
He also attacked Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for suggesting states did not need to add more public sector employees during a campaign stop Friday in Iowa.
"We don't need any more teachers? 250,000 teachers have lost their jobs… What planet is he living on where he thinks we can take these kinds of hits in our education system?" Axelrod said.
Romney's campaign, which released a new web video Sunday mocking the president's "doing fine" comments, said Sunday Axelrod "couldn't defend" Obama's remarks.
"Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod struggled for two and a half minutes to avoid answering a very simple question: does he agree with President Obama that the 'private sector is doing fine?'" said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams in a statement. "When even your own chief strategist can’t defend your comments, it indicates that your assessment of the economy might be wrong."
Axelrod was also asked about emerging reports that during his time in the White House he offered political advice to Attorney General Eric Holder. Reports this week claimed Axelrod suggested a hire for the department's communications staff and may have had conversations with Holder about messaging strategy.
On Sunday, Axelrod denied having any improper conversations with the attorney general, saying he was sensitive to the perception that the Bush White House meddled in the inner workings of the department.
"From time to time at the White House I would see Holder at meetings, but I rarely spoke to him…. I was very sensitive to the fact… that in the last administration, the political arm of the White House was very active in the Justice Department," he said.