President Obama and Mitt Romney sat down with CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday evening, offering their competing visions for the nation in separate, wide-ranging interviews.
With 44 days to go till Election Day, both Obama and Romney fielded questions in previously recorded interviews on topics from the economy to foreign policy during the news program’s entire hour.
During the interview, Obama, for the second time in a week, expressed disappointment that he hasn’t been able to change the tone in Washington.
“I’m the first one to confess that — the spirit that I brought to Washington, that I wanted to see instituted, where we weren’t constantly in a political slugfest but were focused more on problem solving that … I haven’t fully accomplished that,” Obama said in the interview. “Haven’t even come close in some cases. And … if you ask me, what’s my biggest disappointment is that we haven’t changed the tone in Washington as much as I would have liked.”
Asked if he bears any responsibility for that sentiment inside the Beltway, Obama replied, “Oh, I think that …a s president I bear responsibility for everything to some degree.”
During the interview, Obama slammed Romney for only having “one note—tax cuts for the wealthy—and rolling back regulations as a recipe for success.
“Well, we tried that vigorously, between 2001 and 2008 and it didn’t work out so well,” Obama said.
At the same time during the interview, Obama blamed Republicans for his inability to strike a deal on taxes. But he expressed optimism that a deal could be reached.
Asked why he believed he will be able to achieve that goal, Obama said he hopes that “after the smoke clears and the election season’s over that that spirit of cooperation — comes more to the fore.”
During his interview on the program, Romney was asked about switching his positions on some issues in the past, like abortion rights.
“People wonder, ‘Does Romney believe the things that he says?’ You say what to those people?” CBS News anchor Scott Pelley asked the GOP nominee.
Romney responded that his principles have remained consistent, but that he has learned from his mistakes.
“The principles I have are the principles I’ve had from the beginning of my political life. But have I learned? Have I found that some things I thought would be effective turned out not to be effective? Absolutely. If you don’t learn from experience, you don’t learn from your mistakes, why — you know, you — ought to be fired,” Romney said.
The Republican presidential candidate also discussed policy proposals in the interview, telling Pelley that he wanted to bring income tax rates down for individuals by ridding the tax code of special interest loopholes and deductions.
“The devil’s in the details. The angel is in the policy, which is creating more jobs,” Romney said.
Pressed to be more specific on what exemptions in the tax code he would end, the former Massachusetts governor said he wanted to work with Democrats to craft a plan, not hand them an already-finished proposal.
“It’s very much consistent with my experience as governor which is, if you want to work together with people across the aisle, you lay out your principles and your policy, you work together with them, but you don’t hand them a complete document and say, ‘Here, take this or leave it.’ Look, leadership is not a take it or leave it thing,” Romney said. “We’ve seen too much of that in Washington.”
Romney also said that he would cut government spending by overturning President Obama’s healthcare reform law; turning large federal programs, like Medicaid and food stamps, over to the states and capping their growth to the rate of inflation; as well as reducing the federal workforce.
“Medicaid is a program that’s designed to help the poor. Likewise, we have housing vouchers and food stamps, and these help the poor. I’d take the dollars for those programs, send them back to the states, and say, ‘You craft your programs at your state level and the way you think best to deal with those that need that kind of help in your state,’” Romney said.
“I grow them only at the rate of inflation, or in the case of Medicaid, at inflation plus one percent, that’s a lower rate of growth than we’ve seen over the past several years, a lower rate of growth than has been forecast under federal management.”
A portion of both interviews delved into foreign policy—specifically on the Middle East. Obama said he shares Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s viewpoint that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon, “because it would threaten us, it would threaten Israel and it would threaten the world and kick off a nuclear arms race.”
Asked if he feels pressure from Netanyahu to “draw a line in the sand” with Iran, Obama said any pressure he feels is “simply to do what’s right for the American people” and “block out any noise that’s out there.”
During his interview, Romney said that if he were elected president, he would emphasize that Israel is a vital U.S. ally. And he criticized the president’s decision not to meet with Netanyahu this week when the Israeli leader travels to the U.S.
“I think we also have to communicate that Israel is our ally. Our close ally,” Romney said. “The president’s decision not to meet with Bibi Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, when the Prime Minister is here for the United Nations session I think is a mistake and sends a message throughout the Middle East that somehow we distance ourselves from our friends and I think the exact opposite approach is what’s necessary.”
During his interview, Obama defended his positions on foreign policy and rejected Romney’s criticism that he has been weak on national defense on the heels of the recent assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya.
“Well, let’s see what I’ve done since I came into office,” Obama replied. “I said I’d end the war in Iraq. I did. I said we’re go after al Qaeda. They’ve been decimated in the Fatah. That we’d go after bin Laden. He’s gone. So, I’ve executed on my foreign policy. And it’s one that the American people largely agree with.
“So, if Gov. Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so,” Obama added.
During their respective interviews, both men shared a personal side of themselves. Obama called himself a “night guy” who will do some reading and writing after the first lady and his daughters have gone to bed each night.
“There are times where I sit out on the Truman Balcony and– it’s as good of a view as you get — with the — the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Monument — Memorial — set back behind that. And so those are moments of reflection that — you know, help gird you — for the next challenge and the next day,” he said.
Romney said he prays every night, asking for wisdom and understanding, and that he admires founding father John Adams.
“We saw in him an individual who was less concerned about public opinion than he was about doing what he thought was right for the country. And even though he was defeated in his run for reelection, he did what he thought was right for America. And I respect that kind of character,” Romney said.