Romney Batting 0 out of 2 In His Senate Endorsements

Romney caught a lot of flak for his first commercial endorsing a Republican Senate candidate. The recipient of Romney’s largess Richard Mourdock made controversial comments the following day about rape, conception and God’s will.

Now, Romney has repeated his performance by cutting a commercial for North Dakota Senate candidate Rick Berg. Rick Berg is famous for supporting “a bill that would have made getting an abortion a class AA felony” in North Dakota, with no exceptions. In other words, rape and incest victims getting an abortion would be liable to life in prison!

Romney has not recorded an advertisement for Todd Akin who claimed that women cannot get pregnant during a “legitimate rape”. However, the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee apparently has. While the NRSC earlier disavowed Akin, an anonymous group is financing Akin’s latest ad campaign, and the NRSC is refusing to comment on its involvement. Meanwhile, the conservative National Journal reported this weekend that:

Missouri Republican Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin was arrested at least eight times in the 1980s at anti-abortion protests, according to newly obtained records….

Akin was arrested on October 26, 1985, April 19, 1986 and February 28, 1987 for trespassing. A December, 27 1986 arrest was for “trespassing and peace disturbance.” The arrests reported by the Post-Dispatch came in the same period, between March 1985 and May 1987, but occurred at other clinics. Three were in St. Louis and one in Granite City, Illinois. The paper said protesters tried to block access to the clinics and refused to leave. In one case, Akin was carried out by police. The last known arrest came shortly before Akin’s 1988 election to the Missouri State House, where he served for 12 years before he joined the House.

Anti-Choice Extremism Will Repel Jews


TPM: American Bridge, the Democratic super PAC, is targeting Mitt Romney online with one of the harshest ‘war on women’-themed spots of the cycle.”

— by Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)

Mitt Romney has staked out an aggressively anti-choice stance from the beginning of his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. To this day his website says that ‘he believes that the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade,’ pledges to end federal funding for organizations such as Planned Parenthood, and to reinstate the Mexico City Policy, a burdensome policy that undermines the efforts of international organizations to promote safe and effective family planning programs.

He has also gone further, proposing a fiscal plan that would completely eliminate Title X – the only federal program dedicated exclusively to family planning – taking a harder line stance than many other pro-life advocates.

But that’s not Romney’s only extremist position when it comes to a woman’s right to make medical decisions about her own body. Last year, when Mitt Romney was asked by Mike Huckabee on FOX News whether, while governor of Massachusetts, he would have ‘supported a constitutional amendment that would have established the definition of life as conception’ Romney replied, ‘absolutely.’ And it’s hard to forget earlier this year, when he referred to morning-after pills as ‘abortive pills’ and referred to the president’s health care provision providing free contraception as a ‘violation of conscience’ at a rally in Colorado.

Perhaps Gov. Romney’s most egregious attempt to appeal to anti-choice voters was his selection of Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate.

Congressman Ryan proudly cosponsored the ‘No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act’ which only made exceptions for federally funded abortions in the case of “forcible rape,” excluding victims of ‘non-forcible rape’ such as those who are victims of statutory rape, those who are raped while drugged, or those who have a limited mental capacity. Rape is rape, there are no valid distinctions. Congressman Ryan also cosponsored the ‘Sanctity of Human Life Act’ – also known as a ‘Personhood Amendment’ – which would define life as beginning at the moment of fertilization, effectively outlawing abortion, many types of birth control, and procedures like IVF that help couples trying to conceive.

When it comes to a woman’s right to choose, the Romney-Ryan ticket is about as extreme as it gets….

According to the 2012 Jewish Values Survey by the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute, 95 percent of Jewish Democrats support abortion rights in all or most cases, along with 77 percent of Jewish Republicans. We need a leader who we know we can trust to protect a woman’s right to make her own decision, not Mitt Romney, who would take that right away….

Abortion is a sensitive topic to discuss and one on which not everyone agrees. Nonetheless, the Jewish community seems to speak in virtually one voice on the issue of choice – it is a fundamental and important right that must not be taken away…. For this pro-choice Jewish mother of three, the choice is clear – President Barack Obama will stand up for the rights of women of my generation, and that of my daughters.

Complete article can be read at Haaretz

Romney Endorses Steve King

Mitt Romney was in Iowa today where he gave his endorsement to conservative firebrand Steve King (R-IA):  

“I’m looking here at Steve King, he needs to be your Congressman again. I want him as my partner in D.C.”

Here is some background on Rep. King from Evan McMorris-Santoro:

Rep. Steve King: I’ve Never Heard Of A Girl Getting Pregnant From Statutory Rape Or Incest

Rep. Steve King, one of the most staunchly conservative members of the House, was one of the few Republicans who did not strongly condemn Rep. Todd Akin Monday for his remarks regarding pregnancy and rape. On Monday, King signaled why – he might agree with parts of Akin’s assertion.

King told an Iowa reporter he’s never heard of a child getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest.

“Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way,” King told KMEG-TV Monday, “and I’d be open to discussion about that subject matter.”

And here is some commentary by Adam Peck:

GOP Congressman Tells Voters That Comparing Immigrants To Dogs Was Really A ‘Compliment’

Congressman Steve King (R-IA) participated in a radio debate with Democratic challenger Christie Vilsack last night, and was given a chance to explain a comment he made in May comparing immigrants to dogs.
But instead of apologizing, or even explaining how he simply misspoke, King told the audience that the comment was really meant as a compliment, and that anyone who interpreted it as an insult – namely, everyone – was simply motivated by partisanship and incapable of cooperation:

VILSACK: Frankly, he’s been a bully, and he’s an embarrassment to the people of Iowa when he talks about immigrants as animals. If my mother were here she would say to Congressman King ‘show some decency.’

KING: …This American vigor that we have that comes from legal immigrants who came to this country with a dream – we get the cream of the crop of every donor civilization on the planet – and people that can take a compliment and turn it into an insult are not going to be constructive working across the isle. But that’s what that was, was a compliment. And everyone who was there that heard that knows that.

Zack Beauchamp lists five more of King’s controversial positions.

Stu Bykofsky Candidates’ Comedy Night, 2012

The 22nd  annual Stu Bykofsky Candidates’ Comedy Night, a benefit for Variety, the children’s charity, was held this evening at Finnegan’s Wake.   Since this is primarily a political blog I didn’t take notes on the speakers who aren’t running for office.  As always, this is not intended to be an exact transcript, just rough notes I took at the event.  It would be impossible to capture every joke, especially the longer, more involved story jokes, but I made an effort to provide some idea of each candidate’s routine.  

Photo: Steven M. Falk, Philly.com

Details after the jump.

Text implies a direct joke, notes in brackets are condensations or gists.  Actions or extraneous activities are in italics, as are candidates’ names.  Read your local newspapers for more exact accounts of the event.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Tom Smith (R), candidate for Senate
Running against incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D).

[Tom Smith was brave enough to go first as a stand-up comedian.  He had a clever slide show which featured a head-shot of Smith added to all the slides of stock or iconic photos.]

I am new to politics and most people in Philadelphia aren’t familiar with me.  My father died when I was 20 and I had to look after the family so I couldn’t go to college but I sent my daughters.  [shows a slide of what he would have looked like if he had gone – his face superimposed on someone wearing a college tshirt holding a beer mug].  

My wife is with me, as you can see I let her get a new dress for the event [American Gothic painting with Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s photos in it].  

I worked in a coal mine [Smith’s face on the front of Thomas the Tank Engine, pulling a load of coal].  

I had big dreams [his face added to a picture of the Beverly Hillbillies].  My wife and I adopted four children so a family could stay together.  

People say I am a Tea Party candidate but there are a lot of things about me you don’t know [his face added to an Occupy Pittsburgh group photo].


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Rep. Bob Brady (D), PA 1st Congressional District

[Congressman Bob Brady told a couple of jokes which we can’t repeat here. He made Stu Bykofsky the butt (pardon the pun) of one a “pee and poop joke.”  Another jokee was about an attorney going to a brothel.]

Incumbents do comedy every day, make fools of ourselves every day.  This is for the kids.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)

[Senator Bob Casey appeared in shirt-sleeves!  He made fun of himself for being dull, quoting verbatim a front page New York Times article which talked about Casey’s galloping eyebrows as the way in which he registers excitement.]

Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D), PA 13th Congressional District, sent a surrogate, Neil Deegan.

Top reasons Allyson can’t be here tonight:

  • Still at PennDOT waiting for her voter id card
  • Getting new copy of the Congressional ladies’ room key made for Kathy Boockvar
  • Prepping Mayfair office to hand over to Bob Brady
  • Painting bike lane in front of Stu’s house
  • Getting mani pedi with Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Nancy Pelosi
  • Measuring drapes for Corbett’s office
  • Looking at Pat Toomey’s office
  • Needed a haircut for the DNC.

Photo: Bonnie Squires

Kathleen Kane (D), candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney-General
Running against David Freed (R)

[jokes about her Irish heritage and her hometown of Scranton]
[joke about thinking Finnegan’s Wake was an actual funeral wake]
[joke about doctors]

In Scranton the obituaries are the Irish social pages.  People clip them out and put then on the refrigerator.   They often have headlines, like “101 Year Old Woman Dies Unexpectedly.”

I took my son to an Eagles game.  We saw empty seats up front and moved up to them.  They were next to an older man.  He told us he and his wife had season tickets for years but she died a few days ago.  I asked if a family member didn’t want to come with him.  “Oh, no,” he said, “they’re at the funeral.”


Photo: Bonnie Squires

George Badey, Democratic candidate for 7th Congressional District

[George Badey, who was raised in South Philadelphia and is an avowed Mummer, had a very funny routine.  Badey is the Democrat running against Republican incumbent  Congressman Pat Meehan.]

[told “the neighborhood I grew up in was so tough” jokes – it is now in Brady’s district]

I went to high school in South Philly.  Pat Meehan went to the Chestnut Academy.

Chris Christie is in the hospital.  He has that flesh eating bacteria.  He only has 13 years to live.

Fidel Castro’s successor will be his idiot son, Fidel W. Castro.

Bill Clinton and the Pope died but there was a mix up and Clinton went up and the Pope went down.  When the mix up was fixed and the Pope was going up and Clinton down they passed and the Pope told Clinton he was looking forward to meeting the Blessed Virgin.  Clinton said “You just missed her.”


Photo: Bonnie Squires

David Freed (R), candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney-General
Running against Kathleen Kane (D).

Thanks to Kathleen Kane for picking up the tab.
I went to college with Cecily Tynan.
Fan of Philly sports teams [joke about the 1996 Phillies being bad team].

People say I am too close to Gov. Corbett – he wrote my jokes.  [fakes a phone call from Corbett].  

Hello, Governor?  
Yes, Risa Vetri Ferman’s here — she’s sitting right next to me.  
No, she still won’t run for Attorney General.

[joke about Ed Rendell telling people the statue of Billy Penn is of him]

[calls Daily News columnist John Baer a gossip columnist]

[Photo: Dave Freed seated with Montgomery County D.A. Risa Furman.]


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Kathy Boockvar (D), candidate for PA 8th Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R).

I want to show that I can be funny on purpose and not just by accident.

I wanted to find a job more popular than being in Congress but the TSA didn’t have any opening and Elliott Spitzer already has a co-host.  

Things more popular than Congress right now:

  • Lawyers
  • Chick Fil A’s new branch at the Sea of
  • Gaililee
  • Paris Hilton
  • Porn
  • The IRS
  • Polygamy
  • The idea of being abducted by aliens
  • The oil industry
  • Bank of America
  • BP Oil during the Gulf oil spill

Photo: Bonnie Squires

John Featherman (R), candidate for PA 1st Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Bob Brady (D).

[John Featherman was very funny with jokes about being Jewish and his “mixed marriage” to an Asian woman].  

Two Chinese people had a white baby but everyone knows two Wongs don’t make a white.

A union friend wanted to find a whorehouse where the prostitutes got to keep more of the money than the madam.  They finally found one and the union friend asked for a pretty young blonde but the proprietor said he had to take 62 year old Ethel, because of seniority rules.

Comedian Joe Conklin

Intermission with comedian Joe Conklin who told some good jokes and did impressions of political figures.  He also gave a shout out to the girls from Club Risque and said they were the only ones there with bigger [breasts] than Bob Brady.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Rep. Pat Meehan (R), PA 7th Congressional District

[Congressman Pat Meehan, the Republican incumbent being challenged by Badey, also had a very funny routine.]

Stu thought the Variety Club was a dating service.

My opponent George Badey is a mummer.  He wants to go to Washington, wear satin pants, a feather boa and lipstick.  J. Edgar Hoover already did that.

Anthony Wiener got in trouble for sexting.  He was trying to decide whether or not to resign.  He was in, he was out, he was in, he was out, now he’s holding his own.  Bill Clinton oversaw Wiener’s wedding.  
When the scandal broke he called Clinton to apologize — for what, copyright infringement?

Three political figures were driving through Kansas and ended up in Oz.  [missed the name, possibly George W. Bush?] went looking for a heart, Joe Biden for a brain, and Bill Clinton said “Where’s Dorothy?”

There is an auction for a restaurant gift card which Emerald Capital bids more than the card is worth, then ups that bid when Stu includes a gift basket.


Photo: Bonnie Squires

Dr. Manan Trivedi (PA), candidate in PA 6th Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Jim Gerlach (R).

When I ran in 2010 I spoke at this event and told a lot of jokes about being an Indian-American.  I won’t do that this year.  [fakes a telephone call and answers in stereotypic Indian accent] “Dell Technical Support.  This is … Mike …. In …. Kansas City.”  

My wife is from a very traditional family.  When they heard I wouldn’t be a full-time doctor while I am running for office they asked for three chickens back.

Jim Gerlach and Paul Ryan work out together — they practice their Atlas Shrugged poses.

[spelling bee joke]

Unlike Todd Akin, I know when my time is up.

Special guest, comedian Steve Young tells jokes

Congressman Jim Gerlach, Republican, 6th Congressional District, sent surrogate Kori Walter, district director.

Mitt Romney bet me $10,000 that I wouldn’t do this.

[He told several jokes that fell flat and asked if the audience was drinking enough.  As he left the stage Stu told him you never blame the audience if your jokes don’t get a laugh, always use self-deprecating humor.]

Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, Republican, 8th Congressional District

[Fitzpatrick was taking two of his daughters to college this weekend and so wasn’t sure he would be able to attend; a surrogate, Andre [did not catch last name], was there just in case, but Fitzpatrick told his own jokes]

One night in Washington a robber held me up and said “give me all your money.”  I told him I was a Congressman and he said  “In that case give me all my money.”

Is Mitt Romney here tonight?  Coming in I thought I saw a car with a dog carrier on top.”

[discusses his Irish heritage, family from county next to Limerick.  Says Limerick known for a particular kind of poem.  Tells three.  One about Paul Ryan has a line “grandma just must go.”  One about Romney being robotic but “I saw him cry when he sold his 3rd yacht.”  The last one is about Obama and says he will be a judge on American Idol next year.]

Jim Foster, Independent candidate in 2nd Congressional District
Running against incumbent Rep. Chaka Fattah (D) and Robert Allen Mansfield, Jr. (R).

[Mostly talks about himself, jokes about Chaka Fattah, and says West Mt. Airy is Stepford on the Wissahickon]

Robert Mansfield, Republican candidate for 2nd Congressional District, sends surrogate Ned Green.
Running against incumbent Rep. Chaka Fattah (D) and Jim Foster.

[says he met Mansfield in the 1990’s on another political campaign, Mansfield was homeless then].  Says Mansfield isn’t there because he has a lot of injuries from being in Iraq and is seeing a brain specialist today.

Personal notes:
Smith, Casey, Schwartz/Deegan, Kane, Trivedi, and Boockvar did well.   I was surprised by the Republican candidates telling Romney/Paul jokes.  That seems unusual.

There were a lot of jokes/comments at Congressman Chaka Fattah’s expense.  That is because two years ago he was a presenter and gave an awful, mean-spirited rant.  He wasn’t there tonight.  This would have been an opportunity for him to do something self-deprecating and make a comeback but he didn’t.  (Hint:  There’s always the Star Trek, evil twin/goatee trick that Community has picked up on.)

It was nice to see two women on the stage.  Maybe one of these years Congresswoman Schwartz will join us in person?  Kathleen Kane’s routine had a homespun, Lake Woebegone feel to it.  Boockvar was a little edgier.

The girls from Club Risque paraded from one side of the room to the other about three times, which is the standard from the other years I’ve attended, but this year they were wearing clunky shoes and the sound was disruptive.  

Cross-posted from Above Average Jane. Photo Credit: Bonnie Squires.

Akin Breakin’ Science

Reprinted courtesy of Discover Magazine’s Bad Astronomy column

— by Phil Plait

Unless you’ve had your head buried in the mantle of the Earth this week, you probably heard what Missouri Congressman Todd Akin said about women’s bodies and rape. If you haven’t, my friend Matt Lowry at Skeptical Teacher has the lowdown.

But in a nutshell – apt phrasing, that — Akin claimed that:

First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare… If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

This is so appallingly ignorant — to be kind — that it makes my brain explode. Pregnancy from rape is not rare; tens of thousands occur every year. His claim about the female body is complete claptrap, nonsense. And his use of the word “legitimate” is just grossly insulting. As President Obama said the next day: “Rape is rape”.

So here we have a man who has not just no knowledge of what happens during rape and conception, but actually provably wrong knowledge. And he makes laws about these things.

It’s clear that Akin’s beliefs are driven by his religious fundamentalism. This would be a matter of concern to me for any lawmaker, but you have to understand: he sits on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee!

The irony in this should be evident.

Article continues at Bad Astronomy.

Video from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show follows the jump.

Obama: The Views Expressed By Akin Were Offensive

Jim Kuhnhenn: Thank you, Mr. President.  Thank you for being here.  You’re no doubt aware of the comments that the Missouri Senate candidate, Republican Todd Akin, made on rape and abortion.  I wondered if you think those views represent the views of the Republican Party in general.  They’ve been denounced by your own rival and other Republicans.  Are they an outlier or are they representative?

President Barack Obama: Well, let me, first of all, say the views expressed were offensive.  Rape is rape.  And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me.

So what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women.

And so, although these particular comments have led Governor Romney and other Republicans to distance themselves, I think the underlying notion that we should be making decisions on behalf of women for their health care decisions — or qualifying forcible rape versus non-forcible rape — I think those are broader issues, and that is a significant difference in approach between me and the other party.

But I don’t think that they would agree with the Senator from Missouri in terms of his statement, which was way out there.

More after the jump.
Jim Kuhnhenn: Should he drop out of the race?

President Barack Obama: He was nominated by the Republicans in Missouri. I’ll let them sort that out.

Nancy Cordes: Yes, Mr. President, thank you.  As you know, your opponent recently accused you of waging a campaign filled with “anger and hate.”   And you told Entertainment Tonight that anyone who attends your rallies can see that they’re not angry- or hate-filled affairs.  But in recent weeks, your campaign has suggested repeatedly, without proof, that Mr. Romney might be hiding something in his tax returns.  They have suggested that Mr. Romney might be a felon for the way that he handed over power of Bain Capital.  And your campaign and the White House have declined to condemn an ad by one of your top supporters that links Mr. Romney to a woman’s death from cancer.  Are you comfortable with the tone that’s being set by your campaign?  Have you asked them to change their tone when it comes to defining Mr. Romney?

President Barack Obama: Well, first of all, I’m not sure all those characterizations that you laid out there were accurate.  For example, nobody accused Mr. Romney of being a felon.

And I think that what is absolutely true is, if you watch me on the campaign trail, here’s what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about how we put Americans back to work.  And there are sharp differences between myself and Mr. Romney in terms of how we would do that.  He thinks that if we roll back Wall Street reform, roll back the Affordable Care Act — otherwise known affectionately as Obamacare — that somehow people are going to be better off.

I think that if we are putting teachers back to work and rebuilding America and reducing our deficit in a balanced way, that’s how you put people back to work.  That is a substantive difference.  That’s what I talk about on the campaign.

When it comes to taxes, Governor Romney thinks that we should be cutting taxes by another $5 trillion, and folks like me would benefit disproportionately from that.  I think that it makes a lot more sense and have put out a detailed plan for a balanced approach that combines tough spending cuts with asking people like me — millionaires and billionaires — to do a little bit more.  That’s a substantive difference in this campaign.

Whether it’s on wind energy, or how we would approach funding education, those are the topics that we’re spending a lot of time talking about in the campaign.

Now, if you look at the overall trajectory of our campaign and the ads that I’ve approved and are produced by my campaign, you’ll see that we point out sharp differences between the candidates, but we don’t go out of bounds.  And when it comes to releasing taxes, that’s a precedent that was set decades ago, including by Governor Romney’s father.  And for us to say that it makes sense to release your tax returns, as I did, as John McCain did, as Bill Clinton did, as the two President Bushes did, I don’t think is in any way out of bounds.

I think that is what the American people would rightly expect — is a sense that, particularly when we’re going to be having a huge debate about how we reform our tax code and how we pay for the government that we need, I think people want to know that everybody has been playing by the same rules, including people who are seeking the highest office in the land.  This is not an entitlement, being President of the United States.  This is a privilege.  And we’ve got to put ourselves before the American people to make our case.

Question: Well, why not send a message to the top super PAC that’s supporting you and say, I think an ad like that is out of bounds?  We shouldn’t be suggesting that —

President Barack Obama: So let’s take that particular issue, as opposed to — because you lumped in a whole bunch of other stuff that I think was entirely legitimate.  I don’t think that Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad.  But keep in mind this is an ad that I didn’t approve, I did not produce, and as far as I can tell, has barely run.  I think it ran once.

Now, in contrast, you’ve got Governor Romney creating as a centerpiece of his campaign this notion that we’re taking the work requirement out of welfare, which every single person here who’s looked at it says is patently false.  What he’s arguing is somehow we have changed the welfare requirement — the work requirement in our welfare laws.  And, in fact, what’s happened was that my administration, responding to the requests of five governors, including two Republican governors, agreed to approve giving them, those states, some flexibility in how they manage their welfare rolls as long as it produced 20 percent increases in the number of people who are getting work.

So, in other words, we would potentially give states more flexibility to put more people back to work, not to take them off the work requirement under welfare.  Everybody who has looked at this says what Governor Romney is saying is absolutely wrong.  Not only are his super PACs running millions of dollars’ worth of ads making this claim; Governor Romney himself is approving this and saying it on the stump.

So the contrast I think is pretty stark.  They can run the campaign that they want, but the truth of the matter is you can’t just make stuff up.  That’s one thing you learn as President of the United States.  You get called into account.

And I feel very comfortable with the fact that when you look at the campaign we’re running, we are focused on the issues and the differences that matter to working families all across America.  And that’s exactly the kind of debate the American people deserve.

Jake Tapper: Mr. President, a couple questions.  One, I’m wondering if you could comment on the recent spate of green-on-blue incidents in Afghanistan, what is being done about it, why your commanders tell you they think that there has been an uptick in this kind of violence; and second, with the economy and unemployment still the focus of so many Americans, what they can expect in the next couple months out of Washington, if anything, when it comes to any attempt to bring some more economic growth to the country.

President Barack Obama: On Afghanistan, obviously we’ve been watching with deep concern these so-called green-on-blue attacks, where you have Afghan individuals, some of whom are actually enrolled in the Afghan military, some in some cases dressing up as Afghan military or police, attacking coalition forces, including our own troops.

I just spoke today to Marty Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who happens to be in Afghanistan.  He is having intensive consultations not only with our commander, John Allen, on the ground, but also with Afghan counterparts.  And I’ll be reaching out to President Karzai as well — because we’ve got to make sure that we’re on top of this.

We are already doing a range of things, and we’re seeing some success when it comes to better counterintelligence, making sure that the vetting process for Afghan troops is stronger.  And we’ve got what’s called the Guardian Angel program, to make sure that our troops aren’t in isolated situations that might make them more vulnerable.  But obviously we’re going to have to do more, because there has been an uptick over the last 12 months on this.

Part of what’s taking place is we are transitioning to Afghan security, and for us to train them effectively, we are in much closer contact — our troops are in much closer contact with Afghan troops on an ongoing basis.  And part of what we’ve got to do is to make sure that this model works but it doesn’t make our guys more vulnerable.

In the long term, we will see fewer U.S. casualties and coalition casualties by sticking to our transition plan and making sure that we’ve got the most effective Afghan security force possible.  But we’ve got to do it in a way that doesn’t leave our guys vulnerable.

So we are deeply concerned about this from top to bottom.  And hopefully, over the next several weeks, we’ll start seeing better progress on this front.

In terms of the economy, I would love to say that when Congress comes back — they’ve got a week or 10 days before they go out and start campaigning again — that we’re going to see a flurry of action.  I can’t guarantee that.  I do think that there’s some specific things they could do that would make a big difference.  I’ll give you a couple of examples.

First of all, just making sure that we’ve got what’s called a continuing resolution so that we don’t have any disruptions and government shutdowns over the next couple months, that’s important.  It appears that there’s an agreement on that, but we want to make sure that that gets done.

Number two, we have put forward an idea that I think a lot of Americans think makes sense, which is we’ve got historically low interest rates now, and the housing market is beginning to tick back up but it’s still not at all where it needs to be.  There are a lot of families out there whose homes are underwater. They owe more than the house is worth because housing values dropped so precipitously, and they’re having trouble refinancing.

We’re going to be pushing Congress to see if they can pass a refinancing bill that puts $3,000 into the pockets of the average family who hasn’t yet refinanced their mortgage.  That’s a big deal.  That $3,00 can be used to strengthen the equity in that person’s home, which would raise home values.  Alternatively, that’s $3,000 in people’s pockets that they can spend on a new computer for their kid going back to school, or new school clothes for their kids, and so that would strengthen the economy as well.  

Obviously, the biggest thing that Congress could do would be to come up with a sensible approach to reducing our deficit in ways that we had agreed to and talked about last year.  And I continue to be open to seeing Congress approach this with a balanced plan that has tough spending cuts, building on the trillion dollars’ worth of spending cuts that we’ve already made, but also asks for additional revenue from folks like me, from folks in the top 1 or 2 percent, to make sure that folks who can least afford it aren’t suddenly bearing the burden, and we’re providing some additional certainty to small businesses and families going forward.

Alternatively, they could go ahead and vote for a bill that we’ve said would definitely strengthen the economy, and that is giving everybody who’s making $250,000 a year or less certainty that their taxes aren’t going to go down [sic] next year.  That would make a big difference.

Now, obviously the Republicans have voted that down already once.  It’s not likely, realistically, that they’re going to bring it back up again before Election Day.  But my hope is after the election, people will step back and recognize that that’s a sensible way to bring down our deficit and allow us to still invest in things like education that are going to help the economy grow.

Chuck Todd: Mr. President, could you update us on your latest thinking of where you think things are in Syria, and in particular, whether you envision using U.S. military, if simply for nothing else, the safe keeping of the chemical weapons, and if you’re confident that the chemical weapons are safe?

I also want to follow up on an answer you just gave to Nancy.  You said that one of the reasons you wanted to see Mitt Romney’s tax returns was you want to see if everybody is playing by the same set of rules.  That actually goes to the question she asked, which is this implication, do you think there’s something Mitt Romney is not telling us in his tax returns that indicates he’s not playing by the same set of rules?

President Barack Obama: No.  There’s a difference between playing by the same sets of rules and doing something illegal.  And in no way have we suggested the latter.  But the first disclosure, the one year of tax returns that he disclosed indicated that he used Swiss bank accounts, for example.  Well, that may be perfectly legal, but I suspect if you ask the average American, do you have one and is that part of how you manage your tax obligations, they would say no.  They would find that relevant information, particularly when we’re going into a time where we know we’re going to have to make tough choices both about spending and about taxes.

So I think the idea that this is somehow exceptional, that there should be a rationale or a justification for doing more than the very bare minimum has it backwards.  I mean, the assumption should be you do what previous presidential candidates did, dating back for decades.  And Governor Romney’s own dad says, well, the reason I put out 10 or 12 years is because any single year might not tell you the whole story.  And everybody has, I think, followed that custom ever since.

The American people have assumed that if you want to be President of the United States, that your life is an open book   when it comes to things like your finances.  I’m not asking him to disclose every detail of his medical records — although we normally do that as well — (laughter.)  You know?  I mean, this isn’t sort of overly personal here, guys.  This is pretty standard stuff.  I don’t think we’re being mean by asking him to do what every other presidential candidate has done — right?  It’s what the American people expect.

On Syria, obviously this is a very tough issue.  I have indicated repeatedly that President al-Assad has lost legitimacy, that he needs to step down.  So far, he hasn’t gotten the message, and instead has double downed in violence on his own people.  The international community has sent a clear message that rather than drag his country into civil war he should move in the direction of a political transition.  But at this point, the likelihood of a soft landing seems pretty distant.

What we’ve said is, number one, we want to make sure we’re providing humanitarian assistance, and we’ve done that to the tune of $82 million, I believe, so far.  And we’ll probably end up doing a little more because we want to make sure that the hundreds of thousands of refugees that are fleeing the mayhem, that they don’t end up creating — or being in a terrible situation, or also destabilizing some of Syria’s neighbors.

The second thing we’ve done is we said that we would provide, in consultation with the international community, some assistance to the opposition in thinking about how would a political transition take place, and what are the principles that should be upheld in terms of looking out for minority rights and human rights.  And that consultation is taking place.

I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement in the situation.  But the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical.  That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel.  It concerns us.  We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.  That would change my calculus.  That would change my equation.

Jake Tapper: So you’re confident it’s somehow under — it’s safe?

President Barack Obama: In a situation this volatile, I wouldn’t say that I am absolutely confident.  What I’m saying is we’re monitoring that situation very carefully.  We have put together a range of contingency plans.  We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.  That would change my calculations significantly.

All right, thank you, everybody.