Romney Still Doing Damage Control For '47 Percent'

Anytime a candidate calls an unexpected press conference in the evening, you know it's not good news. We look at the latest news and political fall out from the release of Mitt Romney's remarks at a private fundraiser. The comments were made in May and the recording was released by Mother Jones magazine.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel. And we begin this hour in damage control mode with Mitt Romney. He spent the day and part of last night explaining controversial comments he made at a private fundraiser in May, those comments we secretly recorded and released yesterday. On the tape, Romney says that 47 percent of Americans don't pay taxes and consider themselves entitled to handouts from the government. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson on the politics of the statement and the backlash it's caused.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Today, Romney went to the friendly turf of Fox News for a one-on-one interview with host Neil Cavuto, where he tried to explain his remarks at the fundraiser.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV INTERVIEW)

MITT ROMNEY: I recognize that that those people who are not paying income tax are going to say, gosh, this provision of - that Mitt keeps talking about, lowering income taxes, that's not going to be real attractive to them. And those that are dependent upon on government and those that think government's job is to redistribute, I'm not going to get them. I know there's a divide in the country about that view.

LIASSON: But late last night in a hastily called press conference, Romney did admit he could have expressed himself at that fundraiser more artfully.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ROMNEY: It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I'm speaking off the cuff in response to a question. And I'm sure I could state it more clearly and in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that.

LIASSON: The Obama campaign sees the videotape released by Mother Jones magazine as the kind of gaffe that can move votes. Here's Obama surrogate Ted Strickland, the former governor of Ohio, on CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV INTERVIEW)

TED STRICKLAND: You know, he said, I spoke inelegantly. No. He spoke from his heart, and that's what troubles me. If you listen to that tape, you understand that this man is speaking in the most casual, relaxed way with rich fat cats about a large portion of the American population that he has zero respect for.

LIASSON: In 2008, when candidate Obama in a similar secretly filmed fundraiser video described bitter rural voters who cling to religion and guns, Republicans said he had revealed his true self - elitist and condescending. The new Romney video is potentially damaging because it too seems to reveal the real Romney, explaining to donors why he can never convince Obama voters to, quote, "take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ROMNEY: There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the 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. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.

LIASSON: And Romney states:

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ROMNEY: These are people who pay no income tax.

LIASSON: This is a familiar conservative argument, that income tax and not the federal payroll tax is the dividing line between the makers and the takers and that government benefits create a culture of dependency. Romney didn't acknowledged that many of the voters in the Republican coalition, including elderly and white working-class people, fit his description of the 47 percent. The Obama campaign wasted no time. They were up with a Web video by midday showing people watching the Romney tape on iPads and then reacting.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I actually felt sick to my stomach.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I don't like it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: It shows that he's out of touch that if he thinks that half of the country is that - feel like - feeling like victims.

LIASSON: Mother Jones released the rest of the secret video today, including Romney's comments that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have to remain unsolved. And he described himself as uninterested in hearing more from a former secretary of state about prospects for peace. While some conservatives urged Romney to stick to his guns, others called his comments arrogant and stupid and his campaign depressingly inept. There are only 49 days to go until Election Day with the presidential debates the only remaining potential game changer on the schedule. And that leaves Republican strategist Ed Rogers worried.

ED ROGERS: My candidate, Mitt Romney's campaign is very ragged right now. Again, there was the unexpected event of what happened in Libya. He sort of bobbled that, but it didn't matter a lot. Now there is the usual talk about internal strife within the campaign. And now there is this. In politics, bad gets worse. So Romney's in a very fragile position right now. He can weather this. And nothing has been said that's particularly horrific. It's all just been ragged and clutter. And clutter is Obama's friend and Romney's enemy.

LIASSON: While Republican operatives watch from the sidelines hoping Romney can get himself back on track, some Republican candidates aren't waiting to find out. Linda McMahon, the GOP Senate candidate in Connecticut, issued a statement today saying, quote, "I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care." Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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