Flap Over Romney's Tax Remarks Still Generates Buzz

The fallout continues from GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's remarks at a secretly taped fundraising event. In the video, released by Mother Jones magazine, Romney said 47 percent of Americans will vote for President Obama because they pay no income taxes and believe they are victims. On CBS Tuesday night, Obama criticized Romney's remark, in an appearance on David Letterman's program. Earlier, Romney went on Fox to defend his comments.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Entirely aside from the statements that made news, a hidden video of presidential candidate Mitt Romney shows a candidate trying to lay out how he thinks.

MONTAGNE: He discusses routine matters of a campaign - like whether to appear on "Saturday Night Live." Past candidates have turned up on the program, but Romney felt it wouldn't look presidential.

INSKEEP: Last night, President Obama appeared on another late-night program, and offered his evaluation of Romney. Elsewhere on TV, Romney took questions about his remarks at a fundraiser some time ago, in which he said 47 percent of the Americans pay no income taxes and think they are victims entitled to benefits. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Mitt Romney went to the friendly confines of the Fox News Channel yesterday afternoon, in another round of damage control. As he did the night before at a hastily called news conference, Romney stuck to his guns. He acknowledged to Fox's Neil Cavuto that many of those who don't pay income taxes are elderly, or members of the military. He then quickly added...

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

MITT ROMNEY: But I do believe that we should have enough jobs and enough take-home pay, such that people have the privilege of higher incomes that allow them to be paying taxes. I think people would like to be paying taxes.

NAYLOR: Romney's original comments came last spring, at a Florida fundraiser. They were surreptitiously recorded and obtained by Mother Jones magazine, which made the entirety of his comments available yesterday on its website. There were few new revelations beyond the clips released on Monday. Regarding the Middle East, Romney said he got a call from a former secretary of state he would not name. He said the official told him he thought there was a prospect for a settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, after Palestinian elections. Romney said he responded, really? but added, "I didn't delve into it." Asked what he would do to clean house in the government, Romney said there were limits to what he could accomplish, in terms of laying off government employees.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDED REMARKS)

ROMNEY: I kind of wish we weren't unionized so we could go a lot deeper than you're actually allowed to go...

NAYLOR: But it was his remarks about those Americans who don't pay income taxes, and his characterization of the president's supporters, that have caused - by far - the biggest stir.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDED REMARKS)

ROMNEY: All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it, that that's an entitlement, and government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

NAYLOR: Those 47 percent, Romney said, pay no income taxes. Last night, at a taping of "Late Night with David Letterman" on CBS, Mr. Obama acknowledged - in his words - "we all make mistakes." [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The name of the show is "Late Show With David Letterman."]

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There are not a lot of people out there, who think they're victims. There are not a lot of people who think that they're entitled to something.

NAYLOR: He then added...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

OBAMA: We've got some obligations to each other, and there's nothing wrong with us giving each other a helping hand, so that if there's a - that single mom's kid, even after all the work she's done, still can't afford to go to college?

NAYLOR: The Romney campaign also tried to change the subject yesterday. It pointed to an old, 1998 audiotape of then-State Sen. Barack Obama talking about his belief in redistribution. The Obama campaign shot back that dredging up of the 14-year-old tape was evidence of the Romney camp's desperation.

Republican political consultant Ed Rogers says the flap over Romney's remarks, is not doing the GOP nominee any good.

ED ROGERS: Some people are going to be angry. Some people are going to be puzzled. The people that agree with what he had to say, are already for him. So he didn't get any new votes. He didn't break any new ground. He didn't solidify any old support. It's a waste of time. It's unfortunate.

NAYLOR: And at least two GOP Senate candidates running in Democratic-leaning states - Sen. Scott Brown, of Massachusetts; and Linda McMahon, in Connecticut - distanced themselves from Romney, Brown saying, "That's not the way I view the world."

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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Correction Sept. 19, 2012

The name of David Letterman's show is incorrectly given as Late Night with David Letterman. The correct name is Late Show with David Letterman.

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