CHICAGO — Seizing on his campaign’s new line of attack against Mitt Romney’s record as a venture capitalist, President Obama said Monday that private equity firms sometimes harm communities.
“Their priority is to maximize profits,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference at a NATO summit. “That’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses. When you’re president … your job is not simply to maximize profits.”
The president was adding his views to a debate that reignited over the weekend when one of Mr. Obama’s surrogates, Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, strayed from the campaign script and called the Democrats’ attacks on Mr. Romney’s business career “nauseating.”
Mr. Booker said of the Obama campaign’s attacks, “If you look at the totality of Bain Capital’s record, they’ve done a lot to support businesses, grow businesses, and this to me, I’m very uncomfortable with. It’s nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity.”
Mr. Obama said Monday that Mr. Booker is an “outstanding mayor” and suggested the episode didn’t bother him. But the president made it clear he isn’t backing down on the criticism of Bain and Mr. Romney’s tenure there.
“This is not a distraction,” Mr. Obama said. “This is what this campaign is going to be about.”
Mr. Romney responded in a statement Monday: “President Obama confirmed today that he will continue his attacks on the free enterprise system, which Mayor Booker and other leading Democrats have spoken out against. What this election is about is the 23 million Americans who are still struggling to find work and the millions who have lost their homes and have fallen into poverty. President Obama refuses to accept moral responsibility for his failed policies. My campaign is offering a positive agenda to help America get back to work.”
The president’s re-election campaign renewed the line of attack Monday against Mr. Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, with the release of a new Web video accusing Mr. Romney and other partners at Bain Capital of reaping a $100 million profit through its restructuring of Ampad, a paper company, in the mid-1990s that included shuttering a paper manufacturing plant in Marion, Ind. Closing the plant cost 250 workers their jobs, and Ampad went on to lose a total of 1,500 jobs.
Randy Johnson, a former Ampad worker, said the plant closing devastated the working-class community of Marion, and Mr. Romney never tried to avoid the across-the-board layoffs.
“These were quality jobs that you could raise your family on and not work two or three jobs,” Mr. Johnson told reporters during a conference call organized by the campaign Monday.
Asked whether he personally believed Mr. Romney is responsible for such results, the president essentially agreed.
“Your job [as president] is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot,” Mr. Obama said. “Your job is to think about those workers who get laid off and how we pay for their retraining. Your job as president is to think about how we set up an equitable tax system so that everybody’s paying their fair share.”
He added, “If your main argument [in running for president] is that I knew how to make a lot of money for investors, then you’re missing what this job is about.”