Although the Obama/Biden campaign has plenty of gaffes and erroneous statements to answer for from the past five-and-a-half months -- the last presidential press conference was March 6 -- Associated Press White House correspondent Jeff Kuhnhenn opted to toss a softball to President Obama today as he was selected by the president to ask the first question at the chief executive's impromptu session with reporters in the White House press briefing room.
"You are no doubt aware of the comments that Missouri Senate candidate, Republican Todd Akin made on rape and abortion. I wondered if you think those views represent the views of the Republican party in general. They have been denounced by your own rival and other Republicans. Are they an outlier or representative?" Kuhnhenn asked, having obviously answered his own question. [MP3 audio here; video follows page break]
After Obama's answer, Kuhnhenn followed up with, "Should he drop out of the race?", to which Obama said he'd "let them [the Missouri Republican Party] sort that out."
To her credit, however, CBS's Nancy Cordes followed next with serious, sharp questions about controversial things the Obama campaign has done in its effort to smear Republican challenger Mitt Romney:
As you know, your opponent recently accused you of waging a campaign filled with anger and hate and you told Entertainment Tonight that anyone who attends your rallies can see that they're not angry or hate-filled affairs.
But in recent weeks, your campaign has suggested repeatedly, without proof, that Mr. Romney might be hiding something in his tax returns. They have suggested that Mr. Romney might be a felon for the way that he handed over power of Bain Capital and your campaign and the White House have declined to condemn an ad by one of your top supporters that links Mr. Romney to a woman's death from cancer.
Are you comfortable with the tone that's being set by your campaign? Have you asked them to change their tone when it comes to defining Mr. Romney?
Responding to that question, the president insisted Cordes's observations were inaccurate and that he didn't think anyone tagged Romney as a felon. Of course, Politico's Jennifer Epstein noted on July 12 that it was Obama campaign counsel Bob Bauer and deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter who made that charge:
“This is serious business,” said Bob Bauer, the Obama campaign’s counsel, in a conference call for reporters coming after the Boston Globe published a story Thursday that calls into question the timeline of Romney’s involvement of the firm that the Republican candidate has been promulgating for years.
Deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter laid out the issue as the Obama team sees it: “Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony."
Cordes failed to point that out to Obama, but she did work in this follow-up question when Obama insisted his campaign didn't go "out of bounds" even though Obama-friendly super PACs might:
But why not send a message to the top super PAC that's supporting you and say I think an ad like that [the Joe Soptic ad] is out of bounds?
Obama replied that he didn't approve nor produce the Soptic ad which has "barely run" on TV. Of course, his campaign's deputy director Stephanie Cutter may well have had knowledge of the ad and its veracity, or lack thereof, seeing as she was on a conference call with Soptic in May. Cutter vehemently denies this however:
Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter pushed back this morning on “This Week” against any suggestion that she knew the details behind the death of a woman whose husband, Joe Soptic, appeared in a third party advertisement attacking Mitt Romney.
The advertisement, which essentially places blame on Romney for the death of Soptic’s wife from cancer, was paid for by Priorities USA, a super PAC that supports President Obama.
“I didn’t know the facts of when Mr. Soptic’s wife got sick, and I only recently learned that through all of the hysteria over that ad,” Cutter said “But, Jake, what I do know is what Mr. Soptic’s experience was with GST Steel, after Mitt Romney bought it, loaded it up with debt, overleveraged it, paid himself excess profits and fees, but then forced that company into bankruptcy, leaving Mr. Soptic without a job, without health care, and without his pension.”
Cutter has maintained that she was not familiar with the details of Mr. Soptic’s wife’s death even though she was on a conference call that featured Soptic in May.
The next question asked of President Obama came from Tapper, who elected to pivot to foreign policy and the economy:
A couple questions. One, I'm wondering if you can comment on the recent spate of green-on-blue incidents in Afghanistan, what is being done about it and why? Your commanders tell you that they think that there has been an uptick in this kind of violence.
And second, with the economy and unemployment still the focus of so many Americans, what they can expect in the next couple months out of Washington, if anything, when it comes to any attempt to bring some more economic growth to the country.
NBC/MSNBC's Chuck Todd also asked one question on foreign policy, but coupled that with a question aimed at helping the president sharpen his Mitt Romney tax return talking points:
Update us on your latest thinking on where you think things are in Syria and in particular, whether you envision using the U.S. military if simply for nothing else than the safekeeping of the chemical weapons and [unintelliglbe]. But I also want to follow up on an answer you just gave to Nancy.
You said that one of the reasons you wanted to see Mitt Romney's tax returns was you wanted to see if everybody is playing by the same set of rules. It actually goes to the question she asked which is this implication, do you think there's something Mitt Romney is not telling us in his tax returns that indicates he's not playing by the same set of rules?
After answering Todd's questions, Obama thanked the press corps and excused himself, receiving a "thank you, Mr. President," from Todd but an admonition from ABC's Tapper, "Don't be a stranger!"
[Thanks to Media Research Center intern Jeff Meyer for the transcript of questions]