Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a town-hall-style… (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong )
Mitt Romney drew criticism Monday after he failed to challenge a questioner who suggested at a campaign event that President Obama should be tried for treason.
The woman, in posing a question to Romney, asserted, “We have a president right now that is operating outside the structure of our Constitution.”
She was interrupted by applause from the crowd.
“I want to know," she said before turning to another audience member and saying, “Yeah, I do agree he should be tried for treason. But I want to know what you are going to be able to do to help restore balance between the three branches of government and what you’re going to be able to do to restore our Constitution in this country?”
Romney, after waiting for the applause to die down, answered the woman’s question without addressing the treason remark.
“Well, as I’m sure you do, I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired,” he said. “I believe the same thing about the Declaration of Independence.”
He continued by criticizing Obama for suggesting that it would be unprecedented for the Supreme Court to overturn the healthcare law that Democrats enacted in 2010, which is now before the high court.
“So I will respect the different branches of government if I’m fortunate enough to become president,” Romney said.
Romney’s decision to ignore the reference to treason drew immediate comparisons with John McCain, who, as Obama’s 2008 rival, was booed when he told a crowd that they didn’t have to be scared of an Obama presidency.
When a woman at that same event said she couldn’t trust Obama because “he’s an Arab,” McCain replied, “No, ma’am,” and grabbed the microphone.
“He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about,” McCain said.
Romney, when asked about the incident after the event, defended his decision to ignore the comment.
“I don’t correct all of the questions that get asked of me,” he told CNN. “Obviously, I don’t agree that he should be tried.”
The Obama campaign was quick to cast the incident as a sign that Romney lacks “fortitude.”
“Today we saw Mitt Romney’s version of leadership: standing by silently as his chief surrogate attacked the president’s family at the event and another supporter alleged that the president should be tried for treason,” campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement.
The Romney campaign called foul, pointing to a 2011 Labor Day rally in which Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa used foul language to refer to Republicans and said Democrats should take them out. Obama later took the stage and made no mention of the comment.
Asked later if the president should have disavowed the remark, White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the president shouldn't be expected to "serve as the speech police for the Democratic Party."
"What I don't think makes sense is...taking everything that anyone says at an event that the president attends as a guest, and ask the president to approve or disapprove," Pfeiffer said in a radio interview unearthed by Buzzfeed.
This post has been updated to include comments from the Romney campaign.
Geiger reported from Washington and Mehta from Euclid, Ohio.