WASHINGTON — President Obama will not apologize to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for raising questions about his tenure and the timing of his departure from private equity firm Bain Capital, the Democrat said Sunday.
Mr. Romney demanded an apology last week after the Obama campaign suggested he may have broken the law by misrepresenting his position at Bain Capital, part of an assault on the former executive's business career and personal wealth.
"No, we won't be apologizing," Mr. Obama said in an interview with Virginia television station WAVY.
"Mr. Romney claims that he's Mr. Fix-It for the economy because of his business experience. And so I think voters entirely legitimately want to know, well, what exactly was that business experience?" Mr. Obama said.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, the President's former chief of staff, was more succinct.
"Stop whining," Mr. Emmanuel said on ABC's This Week program. "If you want to claim Bain Capital as your calling card to the White House, then defend what happened at Bain Capital."
Mr. Romney has argued that the economic expertise he developed as an investor, manager, and consultant make him a better choice than Mr. Obama to kick-start an economy that has been slow to recover from the 2007-2009 financial crisis.
But Mr. Romney's record at Bain is also shaping up to be something of a liability.
Democrats have highlighted companies that went bankrupt or shipped jobs overseas under Bain's ownership to argue that Mr. Romney is concerned only with helping his fellow millionaires, not working people.
The Romney campaign has said he should not be held responsible for many of those decisions because they occurred after he took a leave of absence from Bain in February, 1999, to oversee the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
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But Mr. Romney continued to claim in regulatory filings that he was still in charge of Bain through 2002, according to documents that have surfaced over the past week.
Bain and Romney campaign officials say it took several years to sort out the terms of his departure but that he was not involved with the company's day-to-day operations during that time.
"He actually retired retroactively at that point. He ended up not going back to the firm after his time in Salt Lake City," Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie said on NBC's Meet the Press.
The Obama campaign has accused Mr. Romney of being responsible for the dismissals of workers and bankruptcies at Bain-owned companies during those years.
"So, you know, as President of the United States, one of the things I've learned … was anything that happens on my watch is my responsibility. That's what people expect," Mr. Obama said.
"Harry Truman said ‘The buck stops with me' and I think, understandably, people are going to be interested in are you [Mr. Romney] in fact responsible for this company that you say is one of your primary calling cards for your wanting to be president," Mr. Obama said.
An Obama spokesman suggested last week that Mr. Romney could have committed a felony if he signed forms saying he was in charge of Bain when he was not, which prompted the apology demand from Mr. Romney.
Democrats have also criticized Mr. Romney for setting up bank accounts in offshore tax havens and refusing to release more information about a personal fortune that is worth up to $250 million.
Mr. Romney's allies said the attacks were an attempt to distract voters' attention from the fact that Mr. Obama has failed to counter high unemployment and sluggish economic growth during his three and a half years in the White House.
"The President can talk all he wants about this, but it's the economy and jobs that are going to address this election," Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, considered a possible vice presidential running mate for Mr. Romney, said on ABC's This Week program.
The Romney campaign released a new television ad relying on video of journalists talking about how Mr. Obama's negative tactics this year contrasted sharply with the message of hope and change he campaigned on four years ago.
"This is not the candidate of hope and change, this is a candidate who is hoping to change the subject," U.S. Rep Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), another possible vice presidential candidate, said on CBS's Face the Nation.
As senior campaign aides stepped up their verbal attacks against each other, the President said he was frustrated that he had failed to change the toxic political atmosphere in Washington after he was elected in 2008.
"Washington feels as broken as it did four years ago," Mr. Obama said in an interview taped for the CBS This Morning show.
"And if you asked me what is the one thing that has frustrated me most over the last four years, it's not the hard work. It's not the enormity of the decisions. It's not the pace. It is that I haven't been able to change the atmosphere here in Washington to reflect the decency and common sense of ordinary people — Democrats, Republicans, and independents — who I think just want to see their leadership solve problems."
"There's enough blame to go around for that," he said.
Both candidates otherwise took the day off.