President Barack Obama on Monday defended his criticism of presumptive Republican presidential Mitt Romney's ties to the private equity firm Bain Capital, saying it was rightly part of the campaign debate because Romney himself was emphasizing his business background.
Obama said he has no problems with private equity firms in general. "There are folks who do good work in that area," he said. "There are times when they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs for new industries."
Obama's re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee are running political television ads portraying the former Massachusetts governor as a corporate raider. The spots emphasize layoffs and bankruptcies at some of the companies bought by Bain, which Romney co-founded.
Still, at a news conference closing a NATO summit in Chicago, Obama said the main mission of private equity companies is to "maximize profits" for themselves and their investors.
"That's part of the role of a lot of business people. That's not unique to private equity," he said.
But he said a president's job is to worry about everybody, not just some.
Maximizing profits is "not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers," the president said. "And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Gov. Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience."
In a statement, Romney characterized Obama's comments as more "attacks on the free enterprise system."
"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," Romney said. "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."
Obama was asked about comments Sunday by Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker criticizing the president for his attacks on Bain. Obama called Booker an "outstanding mayor ... helping to turn that city around."
During an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Booker said he found such attack ads "nauseating to me on both sides" and called them a "distraction from the real issues."
Later, however, Booker released a YouTube video in which he said it is "reasonable" for the Obama campaign to examine Romney's record since Romney himself has made it "a centerpiece of his campaign." Booker said his earlier remarks were intended to express his "profound frustration" with negative campaigning and reiterated his own support for Obama.
Romney headed the Boston-based Bain in the late 1980s. He has said that the experience, plus his leadership in running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, had given him the business knowhow to enable him to create jobs and revive the struggling U.S. economy. His opponents, including former GOP rivals, have focused instead on job losses as a result of Bain takeovers.
"I think it's important to recognize that this issue is not a, quote, `distraction,'" Obama said in Chicago. "This is part of the debate that we're going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on main street, have a shot at success."