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Obama responds to Romney remarks in David Letterman interview

September 18, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • President Obama talks with David Letterman on the "Late Show" in New York.
President Obama talks with David Letterman on the "Late Show"… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)

In his first public comments on Mitt Romney’s secretly recorded remarks, President Obama avoided direct criticism of his GOP foe while contending that anyone who wants to be president must “represent the entire country.”

Speaking with CBS “Late Show” host David Letterman during a trip to New York on Tuesday, Obama said he wasn’t sure what Romney was referring to when he said that there “are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” and that they “believe that they are victims.”

“All of us make mistakes,” Obama said, but “what people want to know, though, is you're not writing off a big chunk of the country because the way our democracy works.”

“This is a big country. And people disagree a lot, but one thing I’ve never tried to do – and I think none of us can do in public office – is suggest that because someone doesn’t agree with me that they’re victims or they’re unpatriotic," Obama said.

PHOTOS: Obama on the campaign trail

The president disputed the idea that most people “think they’re entitled to something,” and reiterated one of the central arguments of his campaign.

“We’ve got some obligations to each other, and there’s nothing wrong with us giving each other a helping hand so that single mom’s kid, even after all the work she’s done, can afford to go to college,” he said.

The full interview with the president is scheduled to air Tuesday night. Excerpts were provided by a White House pool reporter who traveled with Obama to New York, and observed the interview from a separate room of the Ed Sullivan Theater.

Obama noted that 47% of the nation voted in 2008 for John McCain, and that he vowed in his victory speech to be inclusive of their views.

"One of the things I learned as president is you represent the entire country. If you want to be president, you have to work for everyone,” he said.

The Obama campaign’s response thus far to the Romney video has been tentative – heavily circulated on social media channels that are geared toward supporters but not yet in remarks from principals or in paid media.

Vice President Joe Biden did not reference Romney’s remarks in either of his two campaign stops in Iowa, and deflected reporters’ questions about them.

"I'll let his words speak for themselves," Biden told one reporter.

David Axelrod, the campaign’s top strategist, told the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times that Romney’s comments “speak to an out-of-touchness that was startling."

PHOTOS: Mitt Romney on the campaign trail

"To denigrate half the country and suggest that somehow half of our nation are people who see themselves as victims and who aren't willing to take personal responsibility for their own lives was shocking and demeaning. I don't know how you can govern this country if that's what you believe,” he said.

But he would not say whether the campaign would use the comments in paid media.

In addition to the Letterman interview, his second as president, Obama is in New York to raise money for his reelection campaign. The headline event is a fundraiser with Jay-Z and Beyonce, tickets for which cost $40,000, with 100 guests expected. A second fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria hotel had a minimum ticket price of $12,500 per family, according to the campaign.

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michael.memoli@latimes.com

Twitter: @mikememoli

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