A day after blasting the Obama administration's response to the attacks on diplomatic posts in the Middle East, Mitt Romney pivoted back to the economy Thursday, taking particular aim at what he sees as President Obama's soft approach toward China.
The Republican presidential nominee rolled out a television ad that said Mr. Obama's refusal to stop "China's cheating" has led to job losses in the manufacturing sector and vowed at a campaign stop to call China to "the mat" for stealing technology and artificially holding down the value of Chinese imports.
"The president has had a chance year after year to label China a currency manipulator, but he has not done so, and I will label China the currency manipulator on my first day," he said, airing a complaint shared by many in Washington that China's currency is being undervalued, giving Chinese companies a price advantage that kills U.S. jobs.
The Obama campaign said the charge was bogus.
"American manufacturers have added half a million jobs since January 2010 — the fastest manufacturing job growth since the 1990s," said Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman. "President Obama has always stood up for American workers, regardless of politics. He's filed seven trade complaints against China, bringing cases at twice the rate of the Bush administration."
The attack is part of Mr. Romney's broader effort to brand Mr. Obama a lightweight on the global stage. On the stump, he has criticized the president for not doing more to embrace the democratic movements that led the uprisings in the Middle East. Mr. Romney said the president should take a firmer stand on Iran's disputed nuclear program, an issue that snagged headlines this week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the United States to support a "red line" beyond which it would launch a military attack.
Mr. Romney stepped up the criticism Tuesday after learning that mobs had stormed diplomatic posts in Cairo and in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city.
Before news emerged that J. Christopher Stevens, the ambassador to Libya, and three of the consulate's staff were killed in the attacks, Mr. Romney issued a statement saying that Mr. Obama bungled the immediate response when the embassy issued a statement that Mr. Romney said sympathized with the attackers, who were thought to be angered by a U.S.-produced film that was blasphemous to Islam.
The White House disavowed the response from the embassy. Mr. Obama countered in an interview with CBS Wednesday that Mr. Romney has a "tendency to shoot first, aim later" and that "as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that." The Democrat also said that he has a tendency to "cut folks a little slack" in the face of danger, such as in the situation in Cairo.
The Republican, though, doubled down on the attacks during a news conference in Jacksonsville, Fla., on Wednesday, saying the immediate response from the embassy — and by extension the Obama administration — was "akin to an apology."
In an interview with ABC News on Thursday, Mr. Romney said he came to the same conclusion as the White House, "which was that the statement was inappropriate" — though he disagreed with the Obama administration's claim that the statement did not show sympathy for the mob of attackers.
"Well, I think the statement was an inappropriate statement. I think it was not directly applicable and appropriate for the setting. I think it should have been taken down. And apparently the White House felt the same way," he said.
But during his campaign stop in Virginia, the former Massachusetts governor shied away from that line of attack. He dipped his toe in the unfolding unrest in the Middle East, where another uprising erupted, this time against the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.
He said that he is in "mourning" for those killed and their families and that he planned to hold a moment of silence — but he decided to move on after a heckler in the audience yelled, "Why are you politicizing Libya? Why are you politicizing Libya?"
Pushing on, Mr. Romney vowed that he intends to provide the sort of the leadership that "will keep us admired throughout the world." He also argued that the world — "and the Middle East" — needs the United States to have a robust military, which is being threatened by the $500 billion in defense cuts that were set into motion by last year's bipartisan debt deal, which his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, supported.
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