President Barack Obama lodged an unfair-trade complaint against China Monday and immediately used it as a wedge against Republican challenger Mitt Romney, whose beleaguered campaign hit another pothole even it tried to regroup from a shaky few weeks.
Obama told voters in Ohio, where the auto industry is important, of his administration’s new push for the World Trade Organization to sanction China for subsidizing exports of vehicles and auto parts — and costing American jobs.
Romney responded to Obama’s actions quickly and dismissively. Obama “may think that announcing new trade cases less than two months from Election Day will distract from his record, but the American businesses and workers struggling on an uneven playing field know better,” the Republican said.
It was Romney’s own campaign, however, that preoccupied many Republican activists on Monday. Just as aides were trying to calm unhappy supporters, a video surfaced showing Romney telling wealthy donors that almost half of all Americans “believe they are victims” entitled to extensive government support.
“I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” he tells the donors.
In the video reported by Mother Jones magazine, Romney was referring to the 46 percent of Americans who do not owe federal income taxes; he put the figure at 47 percent in his videotaped remarks. Many of those Americans pay other forms of taxes. While many such households are poor, some families making $100,000 a year or more pay no federal income tax because of various deductions and credits.
The Romney campaign said “Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy.”
Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, called Romney’s comments “shocking.”
The video surfaced as Republican activists have watched with growing concern as opinion polls suggest Obama has opened a small lead over Romney since the Republican and Democratic conventions last month.
Romney allies have tried to dampen growing complaints that the campaign fumbled opportunities at the Republican convention, on foreign unrest and, most crucially, on the U.S. economy, which is seen as Obama’s weakest point.
Deficit hawks have long urged politicians of all stripes to tell voters the painful truth that services must be cut and/or taxes must be raised to slow federal deficit spending.
Campaign adviser Ed Gillespie, in a conference call with reporters, said voters want more details about Romney’s tax and spending proposals, and he promised they will come.
“We’re not rolling out new policies,” Gillespie said, but the campaign wants people to “understand when we say we can do these things, here’s how we’re going to get them done, and these are the specifics.”
Romney addressed another sensitive area Monday, immigration, in his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles.
He pledged to work with both parties to “permanently fix our immigration system.” He said a fair and efficient system would never be achieved “if we do not first get control of our borders.”
The careful language underscored the fine line Romney must walk between appealing to Latino voters and angering conservatives who oppose proposals for pathways to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.
On Sunday, the website Politico reported significant tension and disarray in the Romney campaign. Particularly chaotic, according to the account, were efforts to draft Romney’s acceptance speech at his party’s Florida convention. The speech drew lackluster reviews in general, and rebukes from some for making no mention of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Romney played down the reports in an interview with the Spanish-language American TV network Telemundo. “I’ve got a terrific campaign,” he said. “My senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together. I work well with them.”
In his Los Angeles speech, Romney added no new significant details to his deficit-cutting claims. He said he would put the nation “on track to a balanced budget,” in part by eliminating non-essential programs or subsidies.
Obama, speaking in Cincinnati, seemed eager to challenge the notion that Romney will detail potentially painful changes Americans will have to accept to slow the fast rise in the federal debt.
Obama’s own spending plans would not balance the budget. But he has offered more detailed tax-and-spending proposals, in part because he must present budget proposals to Congress.
In Ohio on Monday, Obama noted that he, unlike Romney, would raise taxes on households making more than $250,000 a year. Romney’s platform, the president said, “doesn’t add up.”
“They say the most important thing we have to do is reduce the deficit,” Obama said. “Then the first thing they do is to spend trillions of dollars more on tax breaks for the wealthy.”
In Cincinnati, Obama reiterated his claims that Bain Capital — the private equity firm Romney headed for years — helped companies shift US jobs to China.
“He made money investing in companies that uprooted from here and went to China,” the president said. “When other countries don’t play by the rules, we’ve done something about it. We’ve brought more trade cases against China in one term than the previous administration did in two.”
Romney’s campaign recently began airing TV ads accusing Obama of allowing American manufacturing jobs to be lost to China. The campaign says Bain was not involved in moving jobs to China while Romney headed the firm.
Separately, China filed its own World Trade Organization case Monday challenging US anti-dumping measures on billions of dollars of kitchen appliances, paper and other goods, adding to worsening trade strains between the two economic giants.