President Barack Obama repeatedly challenged the truth of challenger Mitt Romney’s statements as the two battled over the auto industry bailout, energy policy and last month’s attack in Libya in their second debate.
“What Governor Romney said just isn’t true,” Obama said last night after the Republican presidential nominee said he opposed bailing out carmakers because he wanted the industry to go through the same type of bankruptcy other big companies that have survived went through.
Obama said Romney’s plan was to take General Motors Co. (GM) and Chrysler Group LLC “into bankruptcy without providing them with any way to stay open, and we would have lost 1 million jobs.”
The two rivals often interrupted each other while circling the stage as moderator Candy Crowley of CNN tried to keep the debate on track. As Romney went after Obama by saying that his administration had cut oil production on federal lands, Obama interrupted, saying “not true, Governor Romney,” or “it’s just not true.”
The interjections spurred Romney to say, “you’ll get your chance in a moment -- I’m still speaking,” drawing a gasp from the debate audience, which had been told to stay quiet.
The 90-minute debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, took on added urgency for Obama after polls showed he lost the first showdown, giving Romney’s campaign a surge of energy and gains in national and state polls.
Viewers of the debate gave the edge to Obama, 46 percent to 39 percent, in a CNN poll of 457 registered voters with an error margin of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. In a CBS News poll of 525 undecided voters, 37 percent said Obama won, 30 percent sided with Romney and 33 percent called it a tie. The survey’s error margin is 4 points.
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Last night, the candidates took questions from undecided voters, who covered a wide range of issues, including the Sept. 11 attack that killed four Americans in Libya, including the U.S. ambassador to that country.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, took Obama to task for not doing enough to protect the consulate in Benghazi and for taking too long to dispel the idea that the attack there was caused by a spontaneous demonstration instead of terrorists.
Obama said he is “ultimately responsible” for what goes on at U.S. diplomatic missions.
The suggestion that “anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive,” Obama said. “That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander-in-chief.”
After Obama said he had called the attack an act of terror the next day, Romney said, “I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”
Obama let him go on and then said, “get the transcript.” Crowley intervened to say that Obama was indeed correct about using that term in the White House Rose Garden in remarks he made about the attack.
The president used the term in a general reference to his efforts to combat terrorism, and administration officials continued to blame protesters for the attack in Libya for days.
The two candidates clashed over China, with Romney criticizing Obama for failing to do enough to prevent currency manipulation by the country. Obama responded that Romney, who has stressed his business credentials as a private-equity executive, had invested in companies that were “pioneers of outsourcing” to China.
“You’re the last person who’s going to get tough on China,” Obama said to Romney.
Romney returned to the subject later, saying his holdings were in a blind trust and included investments outside the U.S. “Have you looked at your pension?” Romney asked Obama.
“You know, I don’t look at my pension,” Obama replied. “It’s not as big as yours, so it doesn’t take as long,” he added, to laughter.
Both candidates pledged that their overall economic plans would create more U.S. jobs after the opening question in the debate’s town-hall format came from a college student who was concerned about future employment.
“More debt and less jobs, I’m going to change that,” Romney said of Obama’s record. “I know what it takes to create good jobs again.”
Obama, who was criticized for not laying out a clear vision during the Oct. 3 debate between the two, began by telling the student, “your future is bright.”
Romney said he wanted to bring tax rates down and simplify the tax code. In the process, he floated the idea of capping deductions at $25,000. Earlier, he had suggested $17,000.
Obama went after Romney for proposing tax cuts while saying he would reduce the federal deficit, without giving specifics. Referring to Romney’s business background, Obama said the Republican wouldn’t have taken such a “sketchy deal” without details.
“And neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn’t add up,” Obama said.
Romney said of the figures in his proposal, “of course they add up,” and said Obama was misconstruing his plan.
On immigration issues, Romney said children of people who came to the U.S. illegally should have a pathway to becoming a permanent resident, putting his position closer to that of Obama. The president retorted that Romney has said he would veto the Dream Act, designed to address those children.
During the Republican primary contest, Romney used tougher rhetoric than some of his adversaries when discussing illegal immigration, stressing his opposition to any proposal that gives legal status to undocumented immigrants without first requiring that they leave the U.S., and advocating a program that he said would lead to “self-deportation.”
“We’re not going to round up 12 million people, undocumented illegals, and take them out of the nation,” Romney said last night. “Instead, let people make their own choice.”
On other social issues, Obama said Romney would let employers make decisions about whether or not contraception should be covered through insurance for women.
“Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives, and the president’s statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong,” Romney said.
Obama went on to say that Romney’s positions on issues such as Medicare, immigration and federal funding for Planned Parenthood took him beyond the stances of former Republican President George W. Bush. “In some ways, he’s gone to a more extreme place,” Obama said.
Romney trumpeted his efforts during his 2003-2007 gubernatorial term to find women for his Cabinet.
“I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women,” he said.
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Obama used his last comments of the debate, when Romney wouldn’t have a chance to respond, to bring up his rival’s comments at a private fundraiser in May in which he branded 47 percent of Americans as government-dependent “victims.” Those people include Social Security recipients, veterans and students, “and I want to fight for them,” Obama said.
Romney, in his closing remarks before Obama spoke, stressed that he wanted to help “100 percent” of the American people.