BRUNSWICK, Ohio – Mitt Romney in an interview aired Sunday repeatedly refused to say that he would overturn President Barack Obama's new policy allowing some young illegal immigrants to stay in the United States. He claimed Obama's decision was political, while senior White House adviser David Plouffe said the move wasn't motivated by politics.
The Republican presidential candidate was asked three times in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" whether he would overturn the executive order issued Friday if he's elected in the fall. He refused to directly answer.
"It would be overtaken by events," Romney said when pressed for the second time by moderator Bob Schieffer during the interview taped Saturday while the former Massachusetts governor's bus tour stopped in Pennsylvania.
He explained the order would become irrelevant "by virtue of my putting in place a long-term solution, with legislation which creates law that relates to these individuals such that they know what their setting is going to be, not just for the term of a president but on a permanent basis."
Romney's Rust Belt tour swept through Ohio on Sunday. He attended a Father's Day pancake breakfast with two of his sons and five of his 18 grandchildren. He told a rain-soaked crowd that the weather was a metaphor for the country and that "three and half years of dark clouds are about to part." At a second event in Newark, near Columbus, Romney told a cheering crowd that the president's slogan had changed.
"Last time when he was running for president his campaign theme was hope and change. This time he's hoping to change the subject because the American people are not happy," Romney said, speaking for about nine minutes as Occupy Wall Street protesters yelled from a nearby sidewalk.
He planned a third in the state Sunday, where he was set to campaign with House Speaker John Boehner.
In the TV interview, Romney suggested that Obama's decision on immigration was motivated by politics. "If he felt seriously about this he should have taken action when he had a Democrat House and Senate, but he didn't. He saves these sort of things until four and a half months before the general election," he said.
Plouffe, the Obama adviser, sent by the White House to four of the talk shows, contended that Obama's action, which appeals to Hispanic voters who are critical to the president's re-election effort, was not "a political move."
Still, Plouffe acknowledged that Obama's team expects an extraordinarily close election. "It's going to come down to a few votes per precinct in a few states," Plouffe said in an interview on NBC's Meet the Press. His comment underscores the reality that a small number of extra votes from Hispanics could make the difference in some key states like Nevada and Colorado.
Obama's order has put Romney in the difficult position, forcing him to decide between possibly alienating Hispanic voters with tough talk or stoking anger within a conservative GOP base that was slow to warm to him during the primary process.
Romney's comments represent a further softening of his rhetoric on immigration since the GOP primary campaign ended.
For example, before the Iowa caucuses in January, when he faced the challenge of winning over the right-wing base of the GOP, he pledged to veto legislation backed by Democrats that would have created a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Instead of emphasizing the plight of illegal immigrants, Romney focused on the consequences illegal immigration has for U.S. jobs.
Obama's immigration announcement disrupted the start of Romney's five-day bus tour through small cities and towns in six important states.
The tour, now on its third day, scheduled three stops, including two in Ohio towns just outside the metropolitan areas of Cleveland and Columbus. Romney spent the first two days in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, where he assailed Obama and insisted that he's the candidate who will give middle-class Americans "a fair shot."
The Obama administration said the policy change announced Friday will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. Obama's move bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the Democrats' long-stalled legislation aimed at young illegal immigrants who went to college or served in the military.
Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be able to avoid deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED diploma or certificate, or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.
Romney's CBS interview was his first in more than a year with a Sunday talk show on a network other than Fox. It covered a range of topics, including health care, Romney's political future and the European financial crisis.
Romney said that the American banking sector "is able to weather the storm" in Europe. He said European countries are capable of dealing with their mess "if they choose to do so" and the U.S. doesn't want to get into the business of bailing out foreign banks. Romney also does not favor another round of economic stimulus by the Federal Reserve, saying a previous one didn't have the desired effect.
Romney also taped an interview with CSPAN, aired Sunday, and emphasized he wouldn't implement an austerity plan in the U.S. if elected. "What we would never do would be to dramatically slash spending by a trillion or $2 trillion as I came into the White House," he said. Instead, Romney said he will cut programs that would have otherwise grown more expensive over time.
In the CBS interview, the former Massachusetts governor — whose healthcare plan for the state served as the model for the national health reform law — outlined steps he'd take if the Supreme Court strikes it down.
On Iran, Romney said he would be willing to "take military action if necessary" to prevent the country from becoming a nuclear power.
Romney also insisted that he isn't worried about his own political future. "I don't have a political career," Romney said. "I spent my life in the private sector.I don't care about re-elections." Moderator Bob Schieffer asked, "So you're not saying you just intend to serve one term?"
Romney replied that for him "this is not about politics. This is not about did I win this or did they win this. This is about what can we do to get America right."