Huffpost Politics

Presidential Debate 2012: Obama, Mitt Romney Spar On Foreign Policy

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By DAVID ESPO AND KASIE HUNT, ASSOCIATED PRESS

BOCA RATON, Fla. — President Barack Obama sharply challenged Mitt Romney on foreign policy in their final campaign debate Monday night, saying, "Every time you've offered an opinion you've been wrong." The Republican coolly responded, "Attacking me is not an agenda" for dealing with a dangerous world.

Romney took the offensive, too. When Obama said the U.S. and its allies have imposed crippling sanctions on Iran to halt nuclear weapons development, the Republican challenger declared the U.S. should have done more. He declared repeatedly, "We're four years closer to a nuclear Iran."

The president and his rival found agreement, as well, as they sat at close quarters 16 days before the end of an impossibly close election campaign. Each stressed unequivocal support for Israel when asked how he would respond if the Jewish state were attacked by Iran.

"If Israel is attacked, we have their back," said Romney – moments after Obama vowed, "I will stand with Israel if Israel is attacked."

Both also said they oppose direct U.S. military involvement in the brutal attempt to topple Syrian President Bashir Assad.

The event produced none of the finger-pointing and little of the interrupting that marked their debate last week, when Obama needed a comeback after a listless performance in their first meeting on Oct. 3.

But there was no mistaking the urgency. The two men frequently sniped at one another even on issues where they agree, and reprised their campaign-long disagreements over the economy, energy, education and other domestic issues despite ground rules that stipulated the debate cover international affairs.

[Story continues below. Scroll down for live blog updates.]

Presidential Debate: The Final Showdown
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Obama and Romney are locked in a close race in national opinion polls. The final debate behind them, both men intend to embark on a final two-week whirlwind of campaigning. The president is slated to speak in six states during a two-day trip that begins Wednesday and includes a night aboard Air force One as it flies from Las Vegas to Tampa. Romney intends to visit two or three states a day.

Already four million ballots have been cast in early voting in more than two dozen states.

On the Middle East, Romney said that despite early hopes, the ouster of despotic regimes in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere over the past year has resulted in a "rising tide of chaos." He said the president has failed to come up with a coherent policy to grapple with change sweeping the Middle East, and he added ominously that an al-Qaida-like group has taken over northern Mali.

Anticipating one of Obama's most frequent campaign assertions, Romney said of the man seated nearby, "I congratulate him on taking out Osama bin Laden and taking on the leadership of al-Qaida. But we can't kill our way out of this. ... We must have a comprehensive strategy."

Obama said he had ended the war in Iraq, was on a path to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan and has vowed to bring justice to the attackers of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last month – an assault that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

He also jabbed at Romney's having said during the campaign that Russia is the United States' No. 1 geopolitical foe.

"Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy you seem to want the policies of the 1980s, just like you want to import the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies in the 1920s," Obama said.

The two men are locked in a close race in national opinion polls. The final debate behind them, both men intend to embark on a final two-week whirlwind of campaigning. The president is slated to speak in six states during a two-day trip that begins Wednesday and includes a night aboard Air force One as it flies from Las Vegas to Tampa. Romney intends to visit two or three states a day.

Already four million ballots have been cast in early voting in more than two dozen states.

Barring a last-minute change in strategy by one campaign or the other, Obama appears on course to win states and the District of Columbia that account for 237 of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. The same is true for Romney in states with 191 electoral votes.

The battlegrounds account for the remaining 110 electoral votes: Florida (29), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), New Hampshire (4), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Ohio (18) and Wisconsin (10).

The televised debate brought no cessation to other campaigning.

Obama's campaign launched a television ad in Florida that said the president ended the war in Iraq and has a plan to do the same in Afghanistan, accusing Romney of opposing him on both. It was not clear how often the ad would air, given the fall's overall focus on the economy.

Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning in Canton, Ohio, emphasized differences between the two candidates on the war in Afghanistan.

"We will leave Afghanistan in 2014, period. They say it depends," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, like everything with them, it depends. It depends on what day you find these guys."

Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, was in Colorado. "We are in the midst of deciding the kind of country we're going to be, the kind of people we're going to be, for a generation," he said.

Whatever the outcome of the final face-to-face confrontation, the debates have left an imprint on the race. Romney was widely judged the winner of the first debate over a listless president on Oct. 3, and he has risen in polls in the days since. Obama was much more energetic in the second.

Monday night marked the third time in less than a week that the president and his challenger shared a stage, following the feisty 90-minute town-hall-style meeting last Tuesday on Long Island and a white-tie charity dinner two night later where gracious compliments flowed and barbs dipped in humor flew.

At the Al Smith charity dinner, Obama previewed his all-purpose fallback to criticism on international affairs.

"Spoiler alert: We got bin Laden," he said, a reminder of the signature foreign policy triumph of his term, the death at the hand of U.S. special operations forces of the mastermind behind the terror attacks on the United States more than a decade ago.

The president and his challenger agreed long ago to devote one of their three debates to foreign policy, even though opinion polls show voters care most about economic concerns.

Growth has been slow and unemployment high across Obama's tenure in the White House. Romney, a wealthy former businessman, cites his experience as evidence he will put in place policies that can revive the economy.

In recent weeks, the former Massachusetts governor has stepped up his criticism of the president's handling of international matters, although his campaign hasn't spent any of its television advertising budget on commercials on the subject.

In a speech earlier this month, Romney accused the president of an absence of strong leadership in the Middle East, where popular revolutions have swept away autocratic regimes in Egypt and elsewhere in the past two years. He has also accused Obama of failing to support Israel strongly enough, of failing to make it clear that Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon and of backing cuts in the defense budget that would harm military readiness.

Yet Romney has stumbled several times in attempting to establish his own credentials.

He offended the British when he traveled to England this summer and made comments viewed as critical of their preparation for the Olympic Games.

Democrats pounced when he failed to mention the U.S. troops in Afghanistan or Iraq during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in late August, and officials in both parties were critical of his comments about the attack in Benghazi while the facts were unknown.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney claimed during the debate that the U.S. is on track to face a debt crisis like Greece, even though the two countries face completely different circumstances.

"There are two very different paths the country can take. One is a path represented by the president, which, at the end of four years, would mean we’d have trillion in debt, heading towards Greece. I’ll get us on track to a balanced budget," Romney said.

The U.S. does not have to worry about turning into Greece anytime soon, according to some economists. Unlike Greece, the U.S. has its own currency that the Federal Reserve can help weaken when necessary. Greece, in contrast, is chained to the euro, which remains overvalued as the European Central Bank refuses to consider higher inflation. Since the euro remains too expensive, Greece has found it difficult to compete with other countries exporting goods and services.

Severe austerity measures in Greece also have destroyed jobs. As a result, Greece is in a deep recession: Greek and Greek workers are losing their jobs. Meanwhile, creditors are demanding sky-high interest rates from Greece, as it relies on bailouts to avoid complete default.

The U.S., meanwhile, is continuing to borrow money at historically low interest rates because creditors view the U.S. as a safe bet. There aren't any major signs of a creditor revolt looming here.

--Bonnie Kavoussi

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Mitt Romney stated, "Two-thirds of our jobs come from small businesses."

Whether that's true or an overstatement depends on your definition of small business. When both Republicans and Democrats portray small businesses as creating anywhere from half to two-thirds of U.S. jobs, they may be citing estimates that include employment by small locations of big businesses in addition to actual small businesses, as Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has pointed out in a blog post.

The claim that small businesses have created two out of three net new jobs can be misleading because it includes not just small businesses with fewer than 50 workers, but locations of corporations such as Gap or FedEx, that employ fewer than 50 workers.

Bernstein points out that, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, which differentiate between small businesses and "small establishments," small businesses actually created 26 percent of jobs.

-- Janean Chun

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President Barack Obama on Monday highlighted Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's investments in overseas companies, a rare jab at Romney's personal wealth during a debate that largely centered on foreign policy issues and domestic military spending.

Asked about the effectiveness of his administration's Iran nuclear sanctions, Obama took a swipe directly at the former Massachusetts governor, saying "The fact is, while we were coordinating an international coalition to make sure these sanctions were effective, [Romney was] still invested in a Chinese state oil company that was doing business with the Iranian oil sector."

Obama was right, but according to a recent tally by Mother Jones, the president actually underestimated the scale of investment by Romney's trusts in the country the former Massachusetts governor has pledged to label "a currency manipulator" on his first day in office.

While Obama cited only one oil company, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, the Romneys' 2010 and 2011 tax returns show investments in at least 10 Chinese companies, a total investment of at least 1,800.

Among them were New Oriental Education and Technology, a company in which the Romneys' blind trusts invested nearly ,000. New Oriental is famous for stealing copyrighted U.S. academic tests, and was fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by a Chinese court for it.

In what could prove an awkward point for Romney post-debate, the issue of intellectual property theft came up repeatedly on Monday, and Romney railed against the Chinese, who, he said "are stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our technology, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our goods."

Other Chinese companies the Romneys' trusts have invested in include Youku.com and Tencent Holdings -- two huge Internet companies -- and Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, an Asian stock exchange holding company that the Romneys nearly doubled their money on.

"I want a great relationship with China," Romney said Monday night. "China can be our partner, but -- but that doesn't mean they can just roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis."

Another Romney investment in China was in Li & Fung Limited, a supply chain management company that oversees the transfer of Chinese-manufactured goods to giant American retailers like Target and Walmart -- precisely the types of products that many argue have cost American jobs at home as they've been outsourced to cheaper labor markets.

Under pressure to explain many of the overseas investments made by his blind trusts, Romney has maintained that he has no control over the trusts' choices. But according to an aide who spoke earlier this year, his investment manager, Bradley Malt, works "to make the investments in the blind trust conform to Governor Romney’s positions, and whenever it comes to his attention that there is something inconsistent, he ends the investment."

Mother Jones points out that during Romney's first Senate campaign, in 1994, the private equity millionaire painted a very different picture of how much control each investor has over his or her blind trust, saying, "The blind trust is an age old ruse, if you will, which is to say, you can always tell the blind trust what it can and cannot do. You give a blind trust rules."

-- Christina Wilkie

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President Barack Obama said during Monday's debate that Mitt Romney wants to bring back the economic policies of the 1920s, when the U.S. was headed toward the Great Depression.

"When it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s," Obama said to Romney.

During the 1920s, the government slashed the top marginal tax rate from 73 percent to 25 percent, according to the Library of Economics and Liberty. Income inequality reached a record high in 1928, according to Emanuel Saez, economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. That was one year before the 1929 stock market crash that helped usher in the Great Depression.

Romney, for his part, has proposed slashing marginal tax rates by 20 percent and cutting taxes on investment income. His tax plan would increase the deficit by trillion over the next decade, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Romney's tax plan also disproportionately benefits the rich, according to some analyses. Romney's tax plan would give families in the top 0.1 percent of income an average tax cut of 5,716, while families in the middle fifth of the income distribution would get an average tax cut of just 0, according to the Tax Policy Center.

-- Bonnie Kavoussi

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@ nielslesniewski : Sen. Durbin to CNBC on what happens in DC if Romney wins: "I'm not going to make a Mitch McConnell statement."

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@ BobMcDonnell : President Obama's comment about 'horses and bayonets' was an insult to every sailor who has put his or her life on the line for our country.

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President Barack Obama wrapped up his last-ever presidential debate with promises of continued economic progress if he wins another four years in the White House, while Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said it's time for real change in Washington if people want to see the economy prosper.

Looking directly into the camera, Obama said he has spent the past four years "digging our way out" of Bush-era policies that resulted in two prolonged wars, record deficits and a recession.

"Gov. Romney wants to take us back to those policies," he said. In contrast, Obama said he would focus on bolstering the middle class by investing in U.S. manufacturing, education, energy reform, deficit reduction and by asking wealthy people "to do a little bit more."

"We've been through tough times, but we always bounce back because of our character," Obama said. "If I have the privilege of being your president for another four years, I promise you, I will always listen to your voices, I will fight for your families, and I will work every single day to make sure America continues to be the greatest nation on earth."

Romney, who also appealed to voters looking directly in the camera, talked vaguely about promoting "principles of peace" and his desire to "see growing peace in this country; it's our objective."

A vote for Obama means a vote in support of trillion in debt, Romney warned. "I'll get us on track to a balanced budget," he said. "I'll get people back to work with 12 million new jobs. I want to make sure we get people off food stamps, not by cutting the program but by getting them good jobs."

The former Massachusetts governor also touted his ability to work across the aisle -- something sorely needed in Washington. "I was in a state where my legislature was 87 percent Democrat. I learned how to get along on the other side," he said. "I know what it takes to get this country back, and we will work with good Democrats and Republicans to do that."

-- Jennifer Bendery

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@ edhenryTV : A top Romney adviser candidly admitted to me Gov could have/should have hit harder on Libya but goal was to get out looking presidential

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Romney sent a post-debate email to supporters called "Help me restore the America we love":

With just two weeks until the election, the American people have a clear choice.

America deserves better than the last four years. That's why I need you in my corner now more than ever.

Together, we will restore the country we love.

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A CNN poll of registered voters who watched the debate found that 48 percent said that President Barack Obama won the debate and 40 percent said Mitt Romney did.

Registered voters in the CNN poll were more likely to say Obama outperformed their expectations than Romney did, perhaps reflecting expectations set by Obama's poor performance in the first debate.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents said Obama performed better than expected, 15 percent worse than expected, and 23 percent said he performed the same as expected. Romney outperformed the expectations of fewer respondents: 44 percent said he did better, 26 percent worse, and 26 percent the same as they expected.

-- Emily Swanson

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Mitt Romney claimed during Monday's debate that repealing health care reform would reduce the federal budget deficit. But that's not exactly true.

"Come on our website, you’ll look at how we get to a balanced budget within eight to 10 years. We do it by getting -- by reducing spending in a whole series of programs. By the way, number one -- get rid of is Obamacare," Romney said.

In fact, repealing Obamacare would increase the deficit by 9 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, since Obamacare saves money for the government.

-- Bonnie Kavoussi

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Uncommitted voters in a CBS instant poll handed President Barack Obama the victory over Mitt Romney in Monday's debate. Of those polled, 53 percent said Obama won, 23 percent said Romney won and 24 percent it was a tie.

The result is similar to the first debate, when 46 percent of uncommitted voters told CBS that Romney won. The CBS poll showed the second debate was largely a draw.

Uncommitted voters' trust in both candidates on foreign policy improved during the debate. The percentage believing Romney could handle an international crisis rose three percentage points, from 46 percent pre-debate, to 49 percent post-debate. Obama saw a far more dramatic jump, from 58 percent to 71 percent.

Post-debate, voters said Obama would do a better job on terrorism, by a 64 percent to 36 percent margin. The two men were equally trusted on China, with 50 percent of uncommitted voters favoring each to deal with the world's most populous nation.

The CBS News post-debate poll was conducted using the GfK KnowledgePanel, a representative Internet panel, among about 500 uncommitted voters who watched the debate. Uncommitted voters in the CBS poll include those who were either totally undecided before the debate or who were leaning to a candidate, but said they may still change their minds.

-- Ariel Edwards-Levy

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Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said in his closing remarks at Monday night’s debate that he wanted to get people off food stamps, but not by changing the program so fewer people qualify.

“I want to make sure we get people off food stamps, not by cutting the program but by getting them good jobs,” Romney said.

Conservatives from Romney on down have made a major talking point out of surging enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, informally known by its former name, food stamps. From 2007 to 2011, enrollment in SNAP increased 70 percent, to 46 million Americans per month at a cost of billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. More people received benefits because more became eligible for the program because of the faltering economy.

Romney’s statement that he would not cut food stamps is out of line with many Republicans, including Romney’s own running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Ryan this year proposed slashing billions in food stamp spending.

Romney’s comment may be out of line with his own campaign platform, as well. Though www.MittRomney.com says almost nothing about SNAP, economists with the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorites have estimated that Romney’s proposal to cap federal spending at 20 percent of Gross Domestic Product would necessitate drastic cuts to SNAP and other programs.

“Reducing SNAP by those percentages would cause 10 to 14 million fewer low-income people to be assisted in 2016, SNAP benefits to be reduced by ,300 to ,800 a year for a family of four, or some combination of the two,” according to the Center’s calculation.

A spokeswoman for the Romney campaign said the candidate supported turning food stamps and other programs into federal block grants, which would cap the cost of the program and give states more leeway in its administration.

-- Arthur Delaney

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@ DavidGrann : John Kerry just said after playing Mitt Romney in debate practice he needs an "exorcism."

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@ kerstinshamberg : John Kerry on Romney: "I thought I was listening to the Wikipedia candidate tonight" #debates

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Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama sparred during the debate over whether Romney said in 2008 that General Motors and Chrysler should fend for themselves without government help.

Obama brought up the subject by saying: "If we had taken your advice, Gov. Romney, about our auto industry, we'd be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China."

Romney fought back: "I said they need -- these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, and in that process they can get government help and government guarantees, but they need to go through bankruptcy to get rid of excess cost and the debt burden that they'd built up."

"You keep trying to ... airbrush history here," Obama responded. "You were very clear that you would not provide government assistance to the U.S. auto companies even if they went through bankruptcy. You said that they could get it in the private marketplace. That wasn’t true."

Romney did oppose a government bailout of the U.S. auto companies in a 2008 New York Times op-ed, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." At the end of the op-ed, he noted: "The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk."

But post-bankruptcy financing is not the same as financing during the bankruptcy process, when these companies were still vulnerable and needed outside money to keep functioning. And in late 2008, lending had frozen. As The Huffington Post's Dave Jamieson noted last week:

Those companies did, in fact, eventually go through managed bankruptcy, as Romney noted. But back in 2008, Romney had argued against federal aid for the automakers. Given how difficult it was to borrow money during the financial crisis, it's doubtful that the GM and Chrysler would have made it through the managed bankruptcy process without the intervention of the federal government.

-- Bonnie Kavoussi

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BOCA RATON, FL - OCTOBER 22: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney with wife, Ann Romney greet people on stage after the debate at the Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center at Lynn University on October 22, 2012 in Boca Raton, Florida. The focus for the final presidential debate before Election Day on November 6 is foreign policy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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President Barack Obama, left, gives a thumbs-up as he is joined on stage by first lady Michelle Obama, right, at the end of the last debate against Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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Early in Monday's debate, President Barack Obama slammed Mitt Romney's statements that hiring more teachers would not stimulate the economy.

Toward the end, Romney shot back. "It's just a tragedy in a nation so prosperous as ours, that these last four years have been so hard," Romney said. "And that's why it's so critical that we make America once again the most attractive place in the world to start businesses, to build jobs, to grow the economy. And that's not going to happen by just hiring teachers."

Despite Obama's infusion of stimulus money to keep teachers at work, a White House report found that since June 2009, more than 300,000 teachers have lost their jobs. In August 2012 alone, schools cut 7,000 educators from payrolls. The result: an increase in the student-to-teacher ratio for the first time in a decade.

And as HuffPost's Sam Stein wrote earlier this month:

There are also questions over the idea that hiring teachers does not produce any economic benefit as studies have shown that there has been an economic impact to the layoff of teachers and other government jobs.

"I love teachers," Romney continued. "And I'm happy to have states and communities that want to hire teachers do that. By the way, I don't like to have the federal government start pushing its weight deeper and deeper into the schools. Let the states and localities do that. I was a governor -- the federal government didn't hire our teachers. I want to get our private sector growing, and I know how to do it."

While it's true that the federal government usually doesn't hire teachers -- on average, federal education spending amounts to less than 10 percent of education dollars -- Obama's stimulus package did. The stimulus fund allotted billion for education starting in 2009. States relied on this one-time cash injection to close 25 percent of their budget gaps and to save 420,000 education jobs from 2009 to the 2010-2011 school year.

Moderator Bob Schieffer was not amused. "I think we all love teachers," he said, sarcastically.

-- Joy Resmovits

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@ jbendery : Pool report: Obama motorcade has left the debate site, disappeared "into the dark and mild Florida night."

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@ USRepMikeDoyle : Sounded like Romney's policies on Syria, Libya, Egypt and Iranian nukes boil down to what obama's been doing.

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Monday's debate was the only one devoted exclusively to foreign policy, but numerous topics went unmentioned. The Eurozone crisis, Africa, India and the drug war in Mexico -- which has killed more people than the crisis in Syria -- were simply not brought up. Complicated but crucial relationships with Russia and North Korea were only mentioned in passing.

Moderator Bob Schieffer allowed only the following topics, per Politico's Mike Allen:

  • America’s role in the world
  • Our longest war – Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • Red Lines – Israel and Iran
  • The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – I
  • The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism – II
  • The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World

Meanwhile, the candidates eagerly pivoted to domestic policy issues -- including the deficit, education policy and tax plans -- that are only peripherally linked to foreign policy.

-- Luke Johnson

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@ HuffPostPol : From @gov: Peak moment: 105,767 Tweets Per Minute - 9:45pm EDT - Obama: "We also have fewer horses and bayonets" #debates

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@ ChuckGrassley : C how Obama continually interrupted Romney. Just now

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In Monday's exchange on education, President Barack Obama made a strong statement on class size -- perhaps the strongest he's made in his tenure.

"When you were asked about reduced class sizes, you said class sizes don't make a difference," Obama said to Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney. He continued:

But I tell you, if you talk to teachers, they will tell you it does make a difference. And if we've got math teachers who are able to provide the kind of support that they need for our kids, that's what's going to determine whether or not the new businesses are created here. Companies are going to locate here depending on whether we've got the most highly skilled workforce, and the kinds of budget proposals that you've put forward -- when we don't ask either you or me to pay a dime more in terms of reducing the deficit but instead we slash support for education -- that's undermining our long-term competitiveness. That is not good for America's position in the world. And the world notices.

Why does it matter? Class size hasn't always been such a clear-cut issue for the Obama administration -- but it is an issue near and dear to the hearts of voters who are parents, and to teachers' unions. It hits on a tension in Obama's education policy: he has tried to appease teachers' unions by pumping stimulus money into hiring more teachers and thus preventing the further ballooning of class sizes, while encouraging reforms like teacher evaluations through Race to the Top that Democratic education reformers favor, but that angered the unions.

Class size has become a pulse point for education in the election, with Romney telling Philadelphia teachers in the spring that class size doesn't matter for educational outcomes, and that "Just getting smaller classrooms didn't seem to be the key." Romney also made fun of Obama for trying to keep more teachers in the classroom.

This summer, Obama's campaign released an advertisement that focused on class size, a man named Kevin who said, "Some of our children's greatest experiences have been in the smaller classrooms."

But at the time, Romney seized on the advertisement, saying that Obama contradicted Arne Duncan, his own education secretary. That's because until recently, the Obama administration also had been less than strident about keeping classes small. In 2011, Duncan said that "class size is a sacred cow and we need to take it on." Duncan later clarified in an interview with The Huffington Post that he'd rather have better teachers in larger classes. "My point there was that I think the quality of the teacher is so hugely important," Duncan said. "I've said things like, give me the parent, give me an option of 28 children in a class with a phenomenal teacher or 22 children in a class with a mediocre teacher. If I was given that choice, I would choose a larger class size."

The administration also noted that in its administration's guidelines for rewriting No Child Left Behind, "we support shifting away from class-sized based reduction that is not evidence-based," adding that high-performing school systems in Asia have larger class sizes.

Though small class size is a favorite of parents, research is mixed. A 1980s Tennessee study, known as STAR, examined class size over four years and found the benefits of small classes were pronounced as kids learn reading and math in their earlier years, but less important in the older grades. Since then, no rigorous experiments have been performed.

"Let me get back to foreign policy," moderator Bob Schieffer said after Obama's remarks. And then Romney responded to Obama on education by boasting about Massachusetts top status on K-12 exams.

It's puzzling, though, that Romney concluded the exchange by mentioning the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship. "We also gave kids not just a graduation exam to determine whether they were up to the skills they needed to be able to compete, but also if they graduated in the top quarter of their class, they got a four-year, tuition-free ride at any Massachusetts public institution of higher learning," Romney said. As many reporters -- including those at HuffPost -- have pointed out since Romney started mentioning it on the campaign trail, it didn't work as planned.

-- Joy Resmovits

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@ jbendery : Oh god, Obama just shook Tagg Romney's hand. NO SLUGGING!!!!&$@&^!$

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Mitt Romney suggested that China is wary about lending the U.S. more money, claiming that the trillion that the U.S. owes to China is making leaders of that country nervous. At the same time, Romney said that China doesn't play fair with its currency, artificially devaluing the yuan against the U.S. dollar. This currency manipulation makes labor cheaper in China, and encourages American companies to send jobs abroad.

These two policies, however, are actually the same thing. China devalues its currency by purchasing American debt. When China buys American debt, it creates more demand for U.S. dollars, which results in a higher value for U.S. dollars relative to China's currency. If Romney labels China a currency manipulator on "Day One," as he vowed to during tonight's debate, he will be demanding that China buy less American debt.

-- Zach Carter

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Schieffer, quoting his mom: "Go vote, it makes you feel big and strong."

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@ lucia_graves : Lots of talk about drones and who loves Israel more. No mention of the drug war that's claimed tens of thousands of lives since 2006.

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@ michellemalkin : Romney closing statement: "I'm optimistic about the future, 2 very different paths. Obama will head us toward Greece, less take-home pay."

Romney: "America is going to come back, and for that to happen, we're going to have to have a president who can work across the aisle."

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Romney: "I want to see peace, I want to see growing peace in this country."

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Obama: "We've been through tough times, but we always bounce back because of our character."

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@ ariannahuff : Romney has met unemployed people.

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@ SteveRattner : Romney is completely fabricating a new position on #autos

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Romney: "I love teachers."

Schieffer: "I think we all love teachers."

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@ BuzzFeedAndrew : First line of Romney's 2009 op-ed says if Detroit gets bailed out "you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.

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Mitt Romney's tactical decision to tie himself as much as possible to President Barack Obama's foreign policy may have been a safe way to avoid making a major foreign policy gaffe. But it also had the added effect of angering a whole bunch of conservatives, from the far right of the spectrum to the center, who wanted him to present a robust contrast with Obama.

David Frum:
@ davidfrum : Real bottom line: when debating in front of a big national audience, Romney will offer no substantial criticism of Obama foreign policy

Glenn Beck:
@ glennbeck : I am glad to know that mitt agrees with Obama so much. No, really. Why vote?

Michelle Malkin:
@ michellemalkin : Why hasn't Romney gone after Obama for Gitmo jihadist coddling, delaying justice for American victims' families?

-- Sam Stein

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Obama: "Gov. Romney, you keep on trying to airbrush history."

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Moderator Bob Schieffer asked both candidates whether they would turn over Afghanistan's security to its forces in 2014 if it was clear Afghans weren't ready, which is a significant possibility.

"Well, we're going to be finished by 2014, and when I'm president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014," said Mitt Romney. He then repeated that the troops would come home in 2014 and started to talk about Pakistan. Romney's comments echoed Vice President Joe Biden's statement that "we are leaving in 2014, period" during his debate against Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

President Barack Obama said that we had "met many of the objectives" of the war. "We're now in a position where we can transition out," he said. "Because there's no reason why Americans should die when Afghans are perfectly capable of defending their own country. Now, that transition has to take place in a responsible fashion, and we've got to make sure that we and our coalition partners are pulling out responsibly and giving Afghans the capabilities that they need."

U.S. and Afghan officials are reportedly expected to start negotiations soon about extending troop presence beyond 2014, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

-- Luke Johnson

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@ ariannahuff : Now Obama's agreeing with Romney #BFFs

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@ markknoller : And here come the Obama surrogates into spin alley. Debate still underway.

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@ samsteinhp : Romney is wrong. he said he would provide support POST bankruptcy

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@ ariannahuff : If Mitt's president, America will be severely strong.

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@ Chris_Moody : Not joking: Both Pauly Shore and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog are in the debate spin room tonight. #debate

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@ ZekeJMiller : GOP flooding spin room

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Obama: "Romney knows about jobs overseas because he invested in companies that shifted jobs overseas."

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@ LukeRussert : I'm a broken record on this but remember Boehner and Cantor do NOT support naming #China a "currency manipulator." #nbcpolitics #GOP

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Oops. CBS's Bob Schieffer made the relatively common slip on Monday of saying "Obama" when he meant to say "Osama."

"We know that Pakistan has arrested the doctor who helped us catch Obama -- uh -- bin Laden," he said, pausing but not going back to correct himself, while asking about how Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney would deal with Pakistan.

-- Elise Foley

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President Barack Obama Monday night told the story of a young girl whose father died in the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

After noting that his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, said he didn’t support moving “heaven and earth” to capture or kill 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, Obama pivoted to Payton Wall.

“After we killed bin Laden I was at Ground Zero for a memorial and talked to a young woman who was 4 years old when 9/11 happened,” Obama said. “And the last conversation she had with her father was him calling from the twin towers, saying, ‘Payton, I love you, and I will always watch over you.’” And for the next decade she was haunted by that conversation.”

Obama met Wall shortly after Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in Pakistan last year. (She had written the president about her own life story after not getting a response from pop star Justin Bieber, according to the New York Post.)

“She said to me, ‘You know by finally getting bin Laden, that brought some closure to me,’” Obama recalled on Monday. “When we do things like that, when we bring those who have harmed us to justice, that sends a message to the world. And it tells Payton that we did not forget her father. I make that point because that's the kind of clarity of leadership, and those decisions are not always popular. Those decisions generally are not poll tested.”

-- Arthur Delaney

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  Obama Romney
Obama Romney
332 206
Obama leading
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Romney won
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