Obama Defends Campaign Tone, Criticizes Romney

President Obama held an unexpected press conference Monday afternoon. The president took questions on issues ranging from Medicare to the tone of the campaign and Syria.

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And we begin this hour with a surprise appearance from President Obama. At a White House news conference this afternoon, domestic politics dominated the discussion, including talk of Mitt Romney's tax returns, Medicare, and the sensitive subject of rape. Mr. Obama also touched on foreign policy - namely the recent spate of so-called green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama has been spending a lot of time lately talking to local TV reporters, but it had been more than two months since his last White House news conference. Reporters had begun pestering Press Secretary Jay Carney about the wait. So partway through Carney's briefing this afternoon, Mr. Obama strode into the press room.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Jay tells me that you guys have been missing me.

(LAUGHTER)

HORSLEY: Reporters weren't the only ones who'd complained. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said today, Mr. Obama is not keeping the American people up to date about the war in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama says he spoke today with a top Pentagon commander who's in Afghanistan about the rising number of attacks on coalition forces by troops wearing Afghan uniforms. The president called that a concern from top to bottom.

OBAMA: In the long term, we will see fewer U.S. casualties and coalition casualties by sticking to our transition plan and making sure that we've got the most effective Afghan security force possible. But we've got to do it in a way that doesn't leave our guys vulnerable.

HORSLEY: Bouncing quickly from one topic to another, Mr. Obama also pushed back against Romney's charge that his health care reform is weakening Medicare. On the contrary, he says, seniors are saving money on prescription drugs and preventive care thanks to the health care law.

OBAMA: These are big deals for a lot of Americans.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama also defended the tone of his re-election campaign while distancing himself from a controversial TV ad produced by a pro-Obama superPAC. That ad suggests Romney is to blame for the death of a steelworker's wife. She died years after the steelworker lost his job and his health insurance at a mill Romney's investment firm had purchased.

OBAMA: I don't think that Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad. But keep in mind, this is an ad that I didn't approve, I did not produce, and as far as I can tell, has barely run.

HORSLEY: The president contrasted that with Romney's repeated arguments that the administration has gutted the work requirement in welfare reform, even though that claim has been thoroughly discredited. Mr. Obama also insisted there's nothing out of bounds about wanting to see more than just two years of Romney's tax returns.

OBAMA: The American people have assumed that if you want to be president of the United States, that your life's an open book when it comes to things like your finances.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama was also asked about the controversial comments of Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri. Akin, who opposes abortion, even in the case of rape, told a TV interviewer women's bodies can prevent a pregnancy if they're victims of what he called legitimate rape. Mr. Obama called the comment offensive.

OBAMA: Rape is rape.

HORSLEY: The president did not suggest that Akin's fellow Republicans share his views, which Mr. Obama called way out there. But he argued there's a broader problem with Republican policy in areas like abortion and birth control.

OBAMA: I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions, or qualifying forcible rape versus non-forcible rape, I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party.

HORSLEY: Polls suggest Mr. Obama has an advantage over Romney with women voters, one he'd like to expand between now and November. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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