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Mitt Romney goes into damage control over ‘fire people’ remark

Holly Bailey, Yahoo News
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(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

HUDSON, New Hampshire—Mitt Romney hadn't planned on addressing the media trailing him in the Granite State this week, but finally he had to, all in the name of damage control.

After a town hall with employees of a metal fabricating plant here, the former Massachusetts governor stepped to the mic to clarify two statements he's made on the trail over the last 24 hours that have quickly become attack fodder for both the Democratic National Committee and his rivals in the 2012 GOP presidential field.

Perhaps the most pressing point of clarification arose from a statement he made during a question-and-answer session with Nashua Chamber of Commerce Monday morning, when he was explaining that he supports the right of individuals to have greater control over their health insurance providers.

"I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy," Romney said. "It also means that if you don't like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know if someone doesn't give me the good service I need, I want to say, you know, I'm going to go get someone else to provide that service to me."

But Romney's opponents quickly seized on the "I like being able to fire people" comment, and the Democratic National Committee forwarded a clip of the video to reporters. In Concord, Jon Huntsman used the statement out of context to contrast his candidacy with Romney, whom he called "out of touch."

"It's become abundantly clear over the last couple days what differentiates Gov. Romney and me," Huntsman said. "I will always put my country first. It seems Gov. Romney believes in putting politics first. Gov. Romney enjoys firing people, I enjoy creating jobs."

And so it happened that Romney was forced to go before a gaggle of more than 100 reporters—one of his biggest entourages of the campaign so far—to rebut his rivals. Before Romney stepped up on a tiny elevated platform to clarify his earlier comments, members of the media pushed and shoved their way into prime positions near the microphone in an exercise that seemed more like a sporting event than a news conference. On-air talent begged their way to the front of the pack—in hopes of getting themselves on camera actually speaking to the candidate.

There were a few false starts, as the Romney advance team shifted around supporters holding campaign signs to get them into prime camera position. "We're having flare problems," a photographer called out.

When Romney finally arrived at the microphone, he seemed to will himself to keep smiling, perhaps knowing that even the hint of a frown could produce an image that he might regret. He insisted opponents had intentionally misinterpreted his "fire people" remark.

"Sorry, you know the context of what I was saying, which is we all like to be able to chose our own insurance company and if they don't do the job for us being able to get rid of them and that's what I was referring to," he said. "I understand that in politics people are going to try and grasp at anything, take it out of context and make it something it's not, and by the way, that's the nature of the process."

But, he added, he was being "adult" about it. "It's a part of the process," he declared.

Romney also sought to offer context for another potentially controversial remark he made on the trail Sunday, which suggested that he knew what it was like to worry about losing your job. "I know what it's like to worry whether you're gonna get fired," Romney said. "There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip."

On Monday, Romney insisted he hasn't had it as easy as some might expect. "As you know in your profession, you never quite know what's going to happen," Romney told reporters. "I think people imagine that I came in at the top of Bain & Company . . . . I started at the bottom. I came out of school, and I got an entry level position like the other people that were freshly minted MBAs. And like anybody that starts at the bottom of an enterprise, you wonder, when you don't do so well, whether you're going to be able to hang onto your job and you wonder if the enterprise gets in trouble, you know, will you be one of those that's laid off. "

"That's what's happening around the country to a lot of people today," Romney added. "And it breaks your heart to see people lose their jobs. Like everybody else, everybody in the private sector knows that there's some prospect that you might lose your job."

But when a reporter followed up with the question of whether Romney believes it's appropriate to liken his experience to less-privileged Americans who have lost their jobs, the candidate seemed to get a bit irritated.

"If you think I should spend my entire campaign carefully choosing how everything I say relates to people, as opposed to saying my own experience and telling my own experience, then that would make me a very different person than I am," he said. "My own experiences. . . . I realize they aren't the same as everyone else that I speak with but I am going to tell you about myself."

Romney then seized the moment to try and get back on message by turning the focus to President Obama.

"If people like that, great. If they want President Obama and a loss of 2 million jobs, a decline of median income in America by 10 percent, and people looking at very difficult prospects going forward, they can choose President Obama," he said. "But if they want someone who understands how the economy works at the level of job creation, of businesses of failing and succeeding, that's what I can bring to the table."

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