Escalation? In an unusual one-two punch, President Barack Obama's campaign and the White House hit back Thursday at Mitt Romney's second general election TV ad for its claim that, if elected, the Republican would take on China over its allegedly unfair trade practices.
"Despite his tough talk now, Governor Romney wasn't always for enforcing trade laws against China," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Carney, who frequently shies away from questions about the campaign, referred reporters to Romney's book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness." He said the former Massachusetts governor had "attacked the president for standing up for American workers and businesses by enforcing trade law against China, even calling it 'bad for the nation and our workers.'" (Carney did not use the book's title. But in a separate press release, the Obama campaign cited the same quote and did so).
"The fact that Governor Romney is criticizing the president from one side despite having occupied the other side of the issue I suppose is not very surprising," Carney said.
(Stop and consider that the totality of the Romney ad's comment on the issue is a pledge that on his hypothetical first day in office "President Romney stands up to China on trade and demands they play by the rules.")
The Obama campaign also got in on the action, with former Ohio governor Ted Strickland pointing to the same passage in the same book and making, in essence, the same accusation. "As someone who has tried to hide the fact he made his fortune by destroying and outsourcing American jobs, it's no surprise that Mitt Romney is now trying to Etch-a-Sketch his record on trade," Strickland said in a statement from the campaign.
"The fact is, before Romney claimed to stand up for American workers, he was against them," Strickland said.
The Romney quote cited in both referred to Obama's late-2009 decision to impose tariffs of up to 35% on Chinese tire imports in response to a union complaint about a flood of cheaper tires. Beijing complained that the move violated international trade rules. But the World Trade Organization (WTO) upheld the change in December 2010.
"President Obama's action to defend American tire companies from foreign competition may make good politics by repaying unions for their support of his campaign, but it is decidedly bad for the nation and our workers," Romney wrote. "Protectionism stifles productivity."
The heat coming from Team Obama -- both the official and the political divisions -- reflects in part the difficult politics of taking on China in an election season. Many Americans, notably those in pivotal battleground states like Ohio, associate job losses with allegedly unfair competition from China. And the Obama Administration has drawn fire from Congressional Democrats for not formally labeling Beijing a currency manipulator -- for not officially charging that it keeps its currency cheap against the dollar to make its products less expensive than American goods. Romney has vowed to take that step if elected, potentially paving the way for imposing sanctions.
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