This morning on "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien," Obama Campaign senior advisor David Axelrod previews the vice presidential debates, saying that Vice President Joe Biden is looking forward to it and the pressure will be on Rep. Ryan to explain details.
“One feature of this debate that will be interesting is a few weeks a go, Soledad, Congressman Ryan was on television and when he was asked to explain how they’re going to pay for this $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy, he said, "Well, it’s too complicated in this short period of time." Well, now he has 90 minutes to do it so perhaps he’ll use his time that way,” Axelrod says.
Soledad also asks about Romney’s proposed tax cut, and asks why Democrats continue to refer to it as a “$5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy” even though some analysts say it's not true.
"What nobody disputes is that Governor Romney’s proposed $5 trillion in tax cuts that would be skewed to the wealthy," Axelrod says. "What he says is, ‘I’m going to offset it with $5 trillion in tax increases in the form of closed loopholes and deductions.’ But he won’t tell anybody what they are. So what we know is he’s got a tax cut that’s going to favor the wealthy and he’ll give us the details on how he’s going to offset that later. And if I’m the middle class, I’m saying, "Watch out," because we know how this ends. We’ve seen this story before.”
Axelrod also addresses the US Consulate attack in Benghazi, and the statements from the Obama Administration as to what happened. "No one has an interest in obscuring facts about this. The President, of all people, wants all the facts so that he can act on them and make sure that in the future, if there were deficiencies, that we address them," he says.
Full transcript available after the jump.
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: David Axelrod is the Obama campaign senior adviser, joining us this morning. It’s nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us.
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Nice to see you.
O’BRIEN: You know, some people would say when he said, "a bad night," that was kind of an understatement. What’s he doing differently this time around?
AXELROD: Well, I think you’ll see on Tuesday night but obviously he got a feel for Governor Romney and how he was going to approach these debates. And he went over the tape himself and he is his own harshest critic. So I’m looking forward to next Tuesday night. And I think part of what took him aback a little was the degree to which Governor Romney tried to fudge his positions, walk away and obscure the positions he’s taken. You got a little taste of that in your last half hour on the issue of abortion rights.
So, you know, that’s a challenge and you have to be up to that challenge. But the President I think is highly motivated and looking forward to the conversation on Tuesday.
O’BRIEN: And the vice presidential debate, there’s lots of conversations about exactly what the strategy is going to be for the Vice President. Gail Collins said, "Don’t expect a bored Biden." And David Brooks said this: "I’m thinking more along the lines of a feral wolverine. I imagine him leaping across the stage and sinking his disturbingly perfect teeth into Ryan’s neck and then just hanging on."
That sounds like a little bit of an exaggeration, but how do you expect it to go? What’s the strategy there?
AXELROD: Yes, actually, I think it is a little bit of an exaggeration, but I do think that he is – I think the Vice President’s very much looking forward to the debate tonight because there are really clear distinctions between the President and Mitt Romney, even if Governor Romney’s trying to fuzzy up those distinctions in the final weeks of the campaign.
You know, one feature of this debate that will be interesting is a few weeks a go, Soledad, Congressman Ryan was on television and when he was asked to explain how they’re going to pay for this $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy, he said, "Well, it’s too complicated in this short period of time." Well, now he has 90 minutes to do it so perhaps he’ll use his time that way.
O’BRIEN: There’s been lots of exception, though, taken to that $5 trillion number, mainly that, which by the way you guys keep repeating over and over again even though many people have said it’s just factually not true mostly because there’s no details around it. Why do you keep going with that number?
AXELROD: No. What nobody disputes is that Governor Romney’s proposed $5 trillion in tax cuts that would be skewed to the wealthy. What he says is, "I’m going to offset it with $5 trillion in tax increases in the form of closed loopholes and deductions." But he won’t tell anybody what they are.
So what we know is he’s got a tax cut that’s going to favor the wealthy and he’ll give us the details on how he’s going to offset that later. And if I’m the middle class, I’m saying, "Watch out," because we know how this ends. We’ve seen this story before.
O’BRIEN: There were pretty volatile hearings yesterday in Congress over the deaths of Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans in Benghazi. It seems to many people that the State Department, certainly, made numerous mistakes, but some have accused the White House of being involved as well. And there certainly are some statements, if you look specifically at what Jay Carney says – he didn’t go as far as Ambassador Susan Rice, but close when he was pointing to the role of this videotape, which now seems to be completely disproven from what we heard from State Department employees on a phone call with reporters the other day.
What was the role of the White House in this?
AXELROD: Well, the role of the White House was to convey the information that we were receiving from our intelligence people on the ground and in the area. And that’s what we’ve done throughout. No one has an interest in obscuring facts about this. The President, of all people, wants all the facts so that he can act on them and make sure that in the future, if there were deficiencies, that we address them.
The other thing is, and the primary task right now, is to find those who are responsible and bring them to justice. So we work with the facts that we have, as the facts emerge, the White House and the State Department have shared them. And now the task should be to ask, "What do we need to do in the future to guard against this kind of a situation?"
One thing we shouldn’t do, however, Soledad, is what Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress have suggested, which is to cut back on funding for the security of these facilities.
O’BRIEN: But there are people who’ve said you didn’t share the facts that you had, unless it’s really taken a full month to figure out that there was no actual protest outside of the Benghazi mission. I mean, already a month later, we’re just learning that what was supposed to have been a protest that morphed into this terror attack actually never really happened.
AXELROD: Well, I think the intelligence community has spoken to that and, you know, there’s no doubt that the videotape created turmoil around the world and I don’t think anybody disputes that fact. We now know more about this particular attack and as we’ve learned those facts, we’ve shared them. And there’s no reason not to share them. The goal has to be to solve whatever deficiencies there were and make sure that our diplomats all over world are secure.
We send people into dangerous places. That’s part of the job. And we need to make sure that, to the extent possible, we’re protecting those diplomats. And nobody feels more strongly about that, Soledad, than the President of the United States.
O’BRIEN: When President Obama was on Tom Joyner’s "Morning Show", he told him that he was – what was the word he used, Roland? He used – he was talking about his debate performance.
He was "too polite". Forgive me. He said he was too polite.
And there were many people who’ve said the President who has "a natural aloofness", which has been written about many times, that this is catching up to him, that he’s connecting with the people, and that the campaign is actually in some disarray. Is that true?
AXELROD: No, I don’t think so at all. And if you look even the polling data that you’re getting, now there’s no doubt that Governor Romney picked up a couple of points –
O’BRIEN: Sorry for that. Someone playing a very loud B-roll of the debate. My apologies.
AXELROD: That’s OK. If you look at the polling, there’s no doubt that, traditionally, the challenger picks up 1 to 3 points after a debate. Mr. Romney’s collected somewhere in the middle of that in these polls. But if you look inside those polls and you ask the question, "Who’s going to fight for you? Who understands your problems? Who will stand up for the middle class?" The President has very large margins on those questions.
So the notion that he’s not connecting with people, that they don’t understand that he’s an advocate for them, that he doesn’t – that the notion that somehow he doesn’t get their lives., that’s not true at all. In fact, the reason that he’s been ahead in this race throughout is that because people do understand that he comes to the office every single day animated by his own experience in life and those of the thousands of people he comes into contact with over the course of a week through his letters, through contacts, discussions.
He is out there, fighting every day for the middle class. That's really a big issue in this campaign. Are we going to have an economy that's animated by that value and that principle that we're going to grow this economy by building middle class, or are we going to go back to the top-down tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulate Wall Street formula that got us into this mess in the first place?
O’BRIEN: How worried are you though? I get what you're saying. At the same time you saw movement from the debate, right? You can have all the connecting data you want. At the end of the day, it was Mitt Romney who won that debate. How concerned are you about the next debate?
AXELROD: I’m not concerned about the next debate. I know the President very well and know how determined he is, going into that debate. And primarily, Soledad, I’m not worried because the President has the right message. He has the right values and he has the right prescriptions for this country.
And ultimately, that’s why Mitt Romney is trying to fudge his own positions right now because he understands he is on the losing side of this debate. He wants to take us back to the very policies that got us into this mess, the president wants to take us forward, pursue policies that are going to build the middle class, and continue this recovery and strengthen it.
O’BRIEN: David Axelrod is an Obama campaign senior adviser, joining us this morning. Nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us.
AXELROD: Nice to see you. Thank you.