Obama, Romney Duel Over China, Immigration

Monday, September 17, 2012 - 12:14pm

President Barack Obama campaigned in America's car country on Monday after his administration filed a trade complaint against China's auto industry subsidies, while Republican challenger Mitt Romney complained the move was "too little, too late."

Romney will speak later Monday to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in his attempt to diminish the president's advantage with the Latino vote, a traditionally Democratic demographic that strongly supported Obama in 2008.

With the November election just over seven weeks away, Obama seeks to maintain the momentum of a perceived "bounce" in support following this month's Democratic National Convention while Romney wants to gain ground on the president ahead of the three presidential debates next month.

Speaking at Eden Park in Cincinnati, Obama focused on the auto sector that, according to industry research, supports almost 800,000 jobs in Ohio.

The president touted both the auto industry bailout from his first year in office, noting Romney at the time called for letting Detroit go bankrupt, and also announced his administration's new complaint with the World Trade Organization that accuses China of providing $1 billion in illegal subsidies to auto and auto parts exporters between 2009 and 2011.

"You can talk a good game, but I like to walk the walk, not just talk the talk," Obama said of Romney, accusing the former Massachusetts governor of backing companies that outsourced U.S. jobs to China.

"We've brought more trade cases against China in one term than the previous administration did in two -- and every case we've brought that's been decided, we've won," Obama continued, adding that the subsidies being challenged "directly harm working men and women on the assembly line in Ohio and Michigan and across the Midwest."

His voice rising to a shout, Obama said to cheers: "It's not right; it's against the rules; and we will not let it stand."

Romney labeled the administration's move an election-year stunt in comparison to what he called his own consistent criticism of China as an unfair trade partner.

"President Obama has spent 43 months failing to confront China's unfair trade practices," Romney said in a campaign statement. "Campaign-season trade cases may sound good on the stump, but it is too little, too late for American businesses and middle-class families."

Adding that Obama's credibility on the issue of confronting China "long since vanished," Romney said he would not wait "until the last months of my presidency to stand up to China, or do so only when votes are at stake."

In a statement earlier Monday, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said that China agreed when it joined the WTO in 2001 to eliminate the kind of export subsidies targeted by the new U.S. complaint.

The WTO is the global organization that referees trade disputes between nations. In the last decade, the Chinese auto industry has grown rapidly as the nation's expanding middle class made the country the world's largest market for car purchases, with General Motors now selling more cars in China than in the United States.

According to White House estimates, up to 60% of China's auto parts exporters benefit from subsidies, making it hard for American companies to compete.

While the Obama administration says it has filed more trade cases against China than did the Bush administration, critics of U.S. trade policy say a tougher line with China is necessary.

Ohio is considered one of the most important battleground states of the November election, offering 18 electoral votes and the historical footnote that no Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying it.

Romney's speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles will include a promise to "permanently fix our immigration system," the latest in a series of attempts to appeal to Hispanic voters despite polls showing the Republican presidential nominee faces a sizable deficit among the key voting group.

Later this week, both Romney and Obama will separately answer questions from the Spanish-language television network Univision as part of outreach to Hispanic voters. Obama leads Romney among Latino registered voters by 64%-27%, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Romney will hammer economic themes of his campaign in Monday's address, arguing that Obama's policies have disproportionately hurt Latino Americans.

"No one is exempt from the pain of this economy, but the Hispanic community has been particularly hard hit," Romney will say, according to excerpts of the speech released by his campaign. "While national unemployment is 8.1%, Hispanic unemployment is over 10%. Over 2 million more Hispanics are living in poverty today than the day President Obama took office."

In one excerpt, Romney will recommend "combining agencies and departments" of the federal government, a proposal he has rarely talked about publicly.

Romney adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters the candidate wants to reduce government employment by 10% through attrition while combining agencies and departments to reduce overhead and linking government compensation to private sector levels -- steps that would bring $500 billion in savings.

Romney also will vow to work with members of both parties to develop a permanent fix for America's immigration system, according to the excerpts of his speech, which provided no details.

"Like so many issues confronting our nation, when it comes to immigration, politics has been put ahead of people for too long," Romney will say in a dig at Obama.

Romney has struggled in the past to frame his positions on immigration in ways that appeal to Hispanic voters as well as the conservative base of the Republican Party.

In December, Romney said he would veto the DREAM Act if he were president. He noted he would support a path to legal residency for those who served in the military, but not students and other young illegal immigrants included in the Democratic proposal blocked by congressional Republicans.

He has since called for Republicans to offer their own version of the DREAM Act but provided few specifics of what it should contain.

At a Republican presidential candidate debate in January, Romney said he favored a system of "self-deportation," a policy that involves making economic conditions so difficult for undocumented workers that they choose to leave the country to find better opportunities. That stance was derided by Democrats and his Republican rivals.

Obama's campaign released a web video on Monday denouncing Romney's "Extreme Makeover, Latino Edition," claiming the candidate was attempting to "overhaul his positions and slow his sharply declining popularity in the Latino community."

"Can Romney cover up his belief in self-deportation as an immigration solution with a bold new wallpaper choice?" Team Obama asks. "Will a new window treatment help disguise his cuts to education and college scholarships? If he does something amazing with spackle, will people forget he's promised over and over again to repeal Obamacare on day one - denying millions of Latinos comprehensive health care coverage? And on his promise to veto the DREAM Act. ... well, duct tape can fix everything, can't it?"

A pair of television ads released Monday by the Romney campaign focus on the nation's economy, which voters identify as their main issue of concern.

In the first ad, Romney speaks interview-style about proposals he claims will help bolster earning for middle income Americans and ultimately create 12 million new jobs before the end of a potential first term. The ad generally repeats Romney's main campaign themes on the economy without offering new details.

The second ad on Monday features a narrator listing problems with the nation's economy since Obama took office.

"Barack Obama: More spending, more debt, failing American families," the ad says.

-- CNNMoney's Chris Isidore and Charles Riley and CNN's Tom Cohen, Jessica Yellin, Kevin Liptak and Dan Lothian contributed to this report.

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