Published September 18, 2012
Mitt Romney, in an interview with Fox News, defended his comments from a fundraiser earlier this year in which he said President Obama's base supporters don't pay federal income tax, "believe they are victims" and will vote for Obama "no matter what." Romney, challenging the notion that he's dismissing those voters, told Fox News he wants to create jobs so that far more Americans are able to pay taxes.
"I do believe that we should have enough jobs and enough take-home pay such that people have the privilege of higher incomes that allow them to be paying taxes," Romney said Tuesday. "I think people would like to be paying taxes."
Romney, in those secretly videotaped remarks, was referring to the 47 percent of people who don't pay federal income tax. The Republican presidential nominee, who took considerable heat from Democrats Tuesday, explained on Fox News that he was trying to outline a key difference between his approach and Obama's approach to governing.
"Frankly, we have two very different views about America," Romney said. "The president's view is one of a larger government."
But Obama hit back at Romney during a taping of the "Late Show" with David Letterman, disputing that Americans who aren't required to pay federal income taxes are "victims" and taking issue with Romney's comment that he didn't have to worry about those voters.
"My expectation is that if you want to be president, you have to work for everyone, not just for some," Obama said.
Romney, though, also referenced a Web video that emerged Tuesday purportedly showing Obama in 1998 saying he likes "redistribution."
"I disagree," Romney said. "I think a society based upon a government-centered nation where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that's the wrong course for America. ... The right course for America is to create growth, create wealth."
Romney responded to claims that he had effectively written off half the population with his fundraiser remarks. Romney said "we go after every group we can to get votes" and suggested his policies would help even those who might not support him.
But he continued to say that those who are not paying income tax probably won't be attracted to his message of lowering the tax rates.
"And those that are dependent upon government and those that think government's job is to redistribute, I'm not going to get them," he said.
The interview comes after Romney assembled a brief and to-the-point press conference Monday night to address the tape, which had been posted online by liberal magazine Mother Jones.
Romney, while saying his phrasing was not ideal, stood by the premise of his remarks, which reportedly came from a fundraiser in Florida.
"It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off the cuff in response to a question," Romney said, adding he wants to help "all Americans."
But he continued: "It's a message which I am going to carry and continue to carry, which is that the president's approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes because frankly my discussion about lowering taxes isn't as attractive to them. Therefore I'm not likely to draw them into my campaign as effectively as those in the middle."
The video was widely circulated after it was obtained by Mother Jones, though it had been on the Internet for weeks. It showed Romney speaking at a May 17 fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney could be heard saying. "There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."
Romney added his job as a presidential candidate was "not to worry about those people."
Democrats seized on the tape, claiming they showed the GOP candidate was out of touch. Obama's re-election campaign released a web video Tuesday that asked voters to watch Romney's comments and respond. In the ad, one woman said she felt "sick to my stomach."
The Obama campaign slammed the comments Monday, calling them "shocking."
"It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation," said Jim Messina, campaign manager for Obama for America.
Romney, in his press conference, called for some context and urged for the full tape to be released -- which Mother Jones did Tuesday afternoon.
But he went on to echo largely his original remarks.
"I believe the point I was made is that the president starts off with a large number of the voters, 47, 48, 49 percent, something like that. These are people who are in his camp and they will vote for him almost no matter what," he said.
"Of course there's a very different approach of the two different campaigns, as I point out I recognize that among those that pay no tax, approximately 47 percent of Americans, I'm not likely to be highly successful with the message of lowering taxes. That's not as attractive to those who don't pay income taxes as it is to those who do. And likewise those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of slimming down the size of government. And so I then focus on those individuals who I believe are most likely to be able to be pulled into my camp."
Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, weighed in Tuesday, calling Romney's original comment "inarticulate."
"He was obviously inarticulate in making this point," Ryan told a TV station in Nevada, arguing that the campaign's point is that more people are dependent on government under Obama.
In another clip Mother Jones released Tuesday, Romney also told the donors that Palestinians "have no interest" in peace with Israel. He says Palestinians are "committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel" and that the prospects for a two-state solution to Mideast peace were dim.
"You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem ... and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it," Romney said. He said pushing Israel to give up disputed territory for a two-state solution with the Palestinians "is the worst idea in the world."
The Romney campaign on Tuesday defended those comments as well.
"Gov. Romney laid out a detailed description of the many difficult issues that must be solved in order to reach a two-state solution. And as he's often said, there is this one obvious truth: peace will not be possible if the extreme elements of the Palestinian side refuse to come to the table for talks or to recognize Israel's right to exist," spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said.
The Romney campaign was opening up its fundraisers to cameras on Tuesday.
The video emerged after the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter apparently persuaded the source who secretly taped Romney at a fundraiser to release it. James Carter IV told The Associated Press he was intrigued after seeing what he describes as a short, mysterious clip of Romney talking about Chinese factory conditions. He told The Associated Press that he tracked the source down on Twitter in August and convinced them to trust a journalist at Mother Jones magazine with the clips. Mother Jones released the video on Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.