Republican nominee Mitt Romney confronted a new headache Monday after a video surfaced showing him telling wealthy donors that almost half of Americans “believe they are victims” entitled to extensive government support. He said that as a candidate for the White House, “my job is not to worry about those people.”
At a hastily called news conference late in the day, Romney offered no apologies for his remarks and when asked if he was concerned he had offended anyone, he conceded the comments weren’t “elegantly stated” and they were spoken “off the cuff.”
President Barack Obama’s campaign quickly seized on the video, obtained by the magazine Mother Jones and made public on a day that Romney’s campaign conceded it needed a change in campaign strategy to gain momentum in the presidential race.
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney is shown saying in a video posted online by the magazine. “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.”
“Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax,” Romney said.
Romney said his role “is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
In his remarks to reporters before a fundraiser Monday night in Costa Mesa, Calif., Romney did not dispute the authenticity of the hidden-camera footage, but he called for the release of the full video, instead of the clips posted online. He sought to clarify his remarks but did not apologize.
“It’s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off the cuff in response to a question. And I’m sure I could state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that,” Romney said. “Of course I want to help all Americans. All Americans have a bright and prosperous future.”
About 46 percent of Americans owed no federal income tax in 2011, although many of them paid other taxes. More than 16 million elderly Americans avoid federal income taxes solely because of tax breaks that apply only to seniors, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
Obama’s campaign called the video “shocking.”
“It’s hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement.
An Obama adviser said the Democratic campaign might use Romney’s comments from the fundraising video in television advertisements. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss campaign strategy publicly and requested anonymity.
Romney’s 2010 federal tax returns show he paid a tax rate of about 14 percent on an annual income of $21 million. The vast majority of his income came from investments, which are taxed at a lower rate than wages. His wealth has been estimated as high as $250 million.
Democrats have tried to make an issue of what Romney pays in taxes and what he is willing to divulge about his taxes and investments. While he has released his 2010 tax returns and a summary of his 2011 returns, he has rejected calls for releasing as many as 10 years of tax returns. His campaign has pledged to release his complete 2011 returns before the election Nov. 6.
The private remarks, made May 17 in Florida, are the latest in a string of controversial comments from the wealthy businessman, whom Democrats have criticized as out of touch. During the primary campaign, Romney said that he was “not concerned” about the very poor because they had a safety net and that he knew what it felt like to worry about being “pink-slipped.”
Aides to Obama’s campaign said the latest video would help them continue to make the case that Romney doesn’t understand the concerns of average Americans.
Earlier Monday, Romney tried to give new direction to his campaign, unveiling an advertising drive intended to address a sense among undecided voters that they do not have a clear sense of where he would take the country if elected president.
With 50 days left until Election Day, it was an abrupt shift from a strategy that until now had been focused almost entirely on criticizing Obama and, in particular, his handling of the economy.
Speaking directly into the camera in one of his commercials, Romney says, “My plan is to help the middle class,” and then goes on to list in broad strokes his plan to “cut the deficit,” “crack down on China” and “champion small business.”
Many conservative leaders have been pressing Romney to be more specific about his policies, saying the campaign needs to provide a sharper contrast to Obama and set out a governing agenda. If the ad did not fill in all the blanks in Romney’s proposals they have asked for, it did address what was becoming a crescendo of calls from supporters, donors and even some on Romney’s own staff for what has become a new mantra, “more Mitt.”
In a conference call with reporters, Ed Gillespie, a senior strategist, said, “We are not rolling out new policy, so much as we are making sure people understand that when we say we can do these things, here’s how we are going to get them done and these are the specifics.”
The campaign was still seeking to get beyond a public airing of internal differences that appeared Sunday in Politico, in which several campaign advisers complained about the domineering style of Romney’s chief strategist, Stuart Stevens.
Stevens was adamant that the campaign focus on the economy, largely steering clear of Romney’s religion and personal story — even as it also stayed away from providing too many details about his policies, which especially seemed to rankle donors who complained that they wanted to see him talk more about his specific tax policies and approach to the deficit.
White House spokesman Jay Carney commented on Romney's video, saying: "When you're president of the United States, you are president of all the people, not just the people who voted for you."
"You've heard the president say so many times, because he deeply believes it, that we're in this together, all of us. When he made the decision, against the advice of many, to take action to save the auto industry, the president did not ask whether the 1.1 million Americans whose jobs would be saved had voted for him or against him. When he fought to pass health care reform, he didn't wonder whether the 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions who would be helped by this reform, who would be given security through the reform were likely to be with him or against him in 2012. I can tell you that the president certainly doesn't think that men and women on Social Security are irresponsible or victims, that students aren't responsible or are victims. He certainly doesn't think that middle-class families are paying too little in taxes," Carney said.
Carney added that as candidate in 2008, "then-Senator Obama never said that he did not worry about or would not worry about 47 percent of the population."
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