Romney's record at Bain Capital is fair game, Obama says

President Obama's comments come a day after Newark Mayor Cory Booker, usually an Obama ally, criticized the Obama campaign's attacks on Mitt Romney's work in private equity.

Mel Evans/AP/File
In this April 13 file photo, Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker speaks in Newark. Booker, usually a President Obama ally, called Obama's campaign attacks on Mitt Romney and his former firm, Bain Capital, 'nauseating.'

President Obama defended his campaign attacks on Mitt Romney’s record in private equity, arguing that since Mr. Romney is using his business experience as his top argument for becoming president, his record deserves scrutiny.

Mr. Obama’s statement, made at a press conference Monday in Chicago at the end of the 2012 NATO summit, came a day after Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker – usually an Obama ally – called the attacks on Romney and his former firm, Bain Capital, “nauseating.”

The Romney campaign and the Republican Party have been having a field day trying to exploit the Democratic schism with videos, Twitter ads, and a petition to “stand with Cory Booker” and “stand up for job creators.”

“What I would say is, Mr. Romney is responsible for the proposals he’s putting forward for how he says he’s going to fix the economy,” Obama said. “And if the main basis for him suggesting he can do a better job is his track record as the head of a private-equity firm, then both the upsides and the downsides are worth examining.”

Obama also offered up a tutorial on the difference between being president and running a private-equity firm. When you’re president, he said, your job is not just to maximize profits.

“Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot,” the president said. “Your job is to think about those workers who get laid off, and how are we paying for their retraining. Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so that they can attract new businesses.”

Obama continued, “Your job as president is to think about, how do we set up an equitable tax system, so that everybody’s paying their fair share, that allows us to invest in science and technology and infrastructure, all of which will help us grow.”

Mayor Booker’s defense of private equity Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” rocketed into the political stratosphere, as he explained that he lives “in a state where pension funds, unions, and other people invest in companies like Bain Capital.”

“If you look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, they've done a lot to support businesses, to grow businesses,” Booker said.

Other Democrats, including former Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee and Steve Rattner, Obama’s former “car czar,” have also come to the defense of the private-equity world as a source of capital to grow businesses and jobs.

The Obama campaign has focused attacks on the companies that ended up failing under Bain – even as Bain itself profited.

On Monday, Obama also defended Booker as “an outstanding mayor” who is “doing great work in Newark” to turn the city around. But he took issue with Booker’s characterization that the campaign attacks are a “distraction.” Booker had criticized both the Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain Capital and a proposal (not by the Romney campaign) to use Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, to attack the president.

Romney reacted to Obama’s press conference by accusing the president of refusing to take moral responsibility for his “failed policies.”

“President Obama confirmed today that he will continue his attacks on the free enterprise system, which Mayor Booker and other leading Democrats have spoken out against,” the former governor of Massachusetts said in a statement. “What this election is about is the 23 million Americans who are still struggling to find work and the millions who have lost their homes and have fallen into poverty. President Obama refuses to accept moral responsibility for his failed policies. My campaign is offering a positive agenda to help America get back to work.”

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