President Obama is doubling down on his campaign’s effort to sow doubts about whether Mitt Romney would have made the call to take out Osama bin Laden, indicating Monday that Romney’s own quotes on the issue from the previous election make it fair game.
“I just recommend that everybody take a look at people’s previous statements in terms of what they thought was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out bin Laden,” Obama said at a press conference in the White House. “I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they would do something else, then I would go ahead and let them explain it.”
Romney has said earlier in the day Monday that “even Jimmy Carter” would have made the same call.
Obama, without mentioning Romney by name, referred in his answer to past statements by Romney in 2007 and 2008 about bin Laden that have subsequently come back to haunt the former Massachusetts governor this week.
In 2007, Romney said, “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person,” prompting a condemnation from then-rival John McCain for Romney’s “naivete.” Romney subsequently walked back the statement to some degree, but in 2008 he sharply criticized Obama for suggesting that he would send troops to Pakistan to take out bin Laden unilaterally if the Pakistani government would not help.
“I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours. … I don’t think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort,” Romney said at the time. He did leave some wiggle room, hinting in a debate that week that his bigger problem with the statement was that politicians should “keep our options quiet.”
Romney and Republican officials have condemned Obama’s campaign for campaigning on bin Laden’s death. A Romney spokesman called it an effort to “divide” Americans; McCain said doing so “politicizes” national security.
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Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.