Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he isn’t too rich to relate to average Americans and President Barack Obama should “start packing” for a White House departure in 2013.
Romney made the remarks in an ABC News interview aired yesterday as Democrats accused him of running a secretive campaign and called on him to release more tax records.
Asked by ABC’s Diane Sawyer whether his wealth -- a car elevator is part of a $12 million renovation at his beach home in La Jolla, California -- prevents him from relating to most people, Romney said it shouldn’t.
“We don’t divide America based upon success and wealth and other dimensions of that nature,” he said. “We’re one nation under God. This is a time when people of different backgrounds and different experiences need to come together.”
Romney, who helped form the private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC in Boston, has estimated his wealth to be as much as $250 million on financial disclosure statements. He earned $21.6 million in 2010, mostly from investments, according to tax returns he released in late January.
More Republican leaders closed ranks behind the former Massachusetts governor today, as he gained the backing of House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“We’re all behind him,” McConnell told reporters in Washington. “He’s going to be the nominee.”
McConnell made his comments a few hours after Boehner said he will be “proud to support” Romney as his party’s nominee and will “do everything I can to help him win.”
Both congressional leaders had been neutral in the race. Romney emerged as the presumptive Republican nominee after his main challenger in the race, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, announced on April 10 he was ending his candidacy.
Boehner told reporters in Washington he waited to make an endorsement to make sure “all candidates had a fair process and a fair opportunity.”
Romney today used the deadline for filing income tax returns to argue that another Obama term would result in higher taxes across the board.
“There are some differences in the campaign coming forward, which is the president, our current president, is intent on raising tax rates, particularly for small business,” Romney said in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh suburb.
Sitting at a picnic table with eight voters, Romney said his tax plans would benefit middle-income Americans as he rejected Democratic contentions that he’s pushing policies to benefit the richest.
“I want the top income earners to pay the share they’re paying now,” he said. “But I do want to help middle income families find a way to make it easier to make ends meet.”
Romney’s plan calls for a 20 percent across-the-board cut in individual income tax rates. It would lower the top tax rate to 28 percent for individuals from 35 percent now, cut corporate taxes to 25 percent from 35 percent, eliminate the estate tax and scrap the alternative minimum tax. It also would limit deductions, exemptions and credits now available to higher-income Americans.
Speaking in Philadelphia last night, Romney accused Obama of seeking “scapegoats” to distract from a weak economy. “I will not do as this president is doing, dividing us on every occasion, attacking one American after another,” he said to cheers from an audience of anti-tax Tea Party supporters. “Trying to find someone who can by virtue of attacking them divert from his failures economically.”
Periodically while campaigning this year, Romney has made comments drawing attention to his wealth -- and earning scorn from opponents -- including saying he has friends who are NASCAR owners and that his wife, Ann, owns a “couple” of Cadillacs.
Ann Romney joined her husband in the Sawyer interview, saying her message to Obama is that it’s “Mitt’s time” because he can turn the economy around.
Asked about Obama’s suggestion that he release 12 years of his tax returns, Romney said he has no plans to do so.
“The president is going to try and do everything possible to divert from the attention being focused upon his record as president and the failure of his economic policies,” he said. “So he’s going to try to make this campaign about the fact that I’ve been successful, that I’ve made a lot of money.”
Romney said he would like to see the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide.
“I would love the Supreme Court to say, ‘Let’s send this back to the states,’” he said. “Rather than having a federal mandate through Roe v. Wade, let the states again consider this issue state by state.”
Romney also said he has picked a longtime adviser to oversee the vetting of his running mate. Beth Myers, the adviser, was a chief of staff for Romney when he was Massachusetts governor. She was his presidential campaign manager four years ago and is a senior adviser to his current bid.
Romney, 65, who at a weekend fundraiser in Florida talked about the importance of appealing to Hispanic voters, called Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida “one of the terrific leaders” of the party, while declining to say if he is on the list of prospective running mates.
In an interview with CNBC’s Larry Kudlow today, Romney said he’d pick someone who “without question” could lead the country if necessary. “All of the political considerations pale in comparison with the consideration of who has the capacity to lead America at a critical time,” he said.
Romney also reiterated in the CNBC interview his opposition to more stimulus of the economy by the Federal Reserve, saying such “qualitative easing” of the money supply had “very little positive effect.”
At the Florida fundraiser, Romney said he is considering the elimination of mortgage deductions on second homes as part of the tax exemptions he would propose ending, NBC News and the Wall Street Journal reported.
Second Home Mortgages
“I’m going to probably eliminate for high-income people the second home mortgage deduction,” he said at the Palm Beach event, adding that he would also likely eliminate state income and property tax deductions. The remarks, made from the backyard of a private home last night, were overheard by reporters on a sidewalk below, NBC reported.
At the gathering, Romney also floated the idea of eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Cabinet-level agency once headed by his father, George.
“I’m going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them,” he said, according to NBC News. “Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later. But I’m not going to actually go through these one by one. What I can tell you is, we’ve got far too many bureaucrats. I will send a lot of what happens in Washington back to the states.”
Asked about the Department of Education, Romney said it, too, would face restructuring.
“The Department of Education I will either consolidate with another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller,” he said. “I’m not going to get rid of it entirely.”
The reports from the fundraiser brought a response yesterday from President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
“Governor Romney previously said he wasn’t going to outline specific cuts during this campaign because they could harm his electoral prospects,” Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement. “Last night’s comments make clear he does in fact have very specific cuts in mind: In order to fund his $5 trillion tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, he would make deep cuts in programs essential to the middle class like education and housing.”