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GOP says Obama playing politics with bin Laden anniversary

By Gabriella Schwarz, CNN
April 30, 2012 -- Updated 1346 GMT (2146 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • GOP says Obama campaign has turned Osama bin Laden's death into a political issue
  • Campaign adviser defends use of killing in recent Web video and in Joe Biden speech
  • Mitt Romney expected to meet with former rival Rick Santorum on Friday
  • Romney set to campaign Monday with Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire

Washington (CNN) -- Days before the one-year anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, top surrogates for President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took to the national stage to argue the politics of the attack.

Senior Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs defended the campaign's use of the event in a recent Web video and in a speech from Vice President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie characterized the political steps surrounding the death as a "bridge too far."

Team Obama released a video on Friday, partially narrated by former President Bill Clinton, that praised the president's decision to order the killing of the al Qaeda chief one year from Tuesday and questioned whether Romney would have made the same choice. Biden similarly questioned the former Massachusetts governor in a campaign-style speech on Thursday.

Gibbs, the former White House press secretary, said the video was "not over the line" and criticized comments Romney made on the issue during his first White House bid as "foolish."

The video quotes Romney in 2007 during his first White House bid, saying, "It's not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." Days later, he said, "We'll move everything to get him (bin Laden)."

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"There's a difference in the roles they would play as commander in chief, and I certainly think that's fair game," Gibbs said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

During his second White House bid, Romney has repeatedly praised the president for launching the raid on bin Laden.

Gillespie, a former aide to former President George W. Bush and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said utilizing the raid for political purposes is one of the reasons Obama has "become one of the most divisive presidents in American history."

"He took something that was a unifying event for all Americans, and he's managed to turn it into a divisive, partisan political attack," Gillespie said in a separate interview on the same NBC program. "I think most Americans will see it as a sign of a desperate campaign."

The day Osama bin Laden died

The campaign video received criticism from Republicans, including from 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain. On Friday, he called the minute-long spot "a cheap political attack ad."

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan avoided the politics of the issue but did praise the president's decision-making skills surrounding bin Laden's death by U.S. Navy SEALs during a raid in Pakistan.

"I don't do politics," Brennan said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "I just know that President Obama, when the time came for him to make a momentous decision like that, he took the action that did bring bin Laden to justice."

Biden teed off what will likely remain a talking point from Team Obama through the election in a Thursday address that previewed a potential 2012 slogan.

"If you are looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it's pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," Biden said during a speech at New York University, lines Gibbs echoed on Sunday.

The president will pick up the message with what the campaign has billed as the president's re-election kick-off on Saturday. Obama is expected to attend campaign rallies in Columbus, Ohio, and Richmond, Virginia, two likely battleground states in the November election.

Biden will attend campaign events in Missouri and Indiana on Monday and in Washington on Thursday.

Obama rallied young voters on college campuses in North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado last week, calling for Congress to stop an increase in the interest rate for student loans in July.

Jim Messina, Obama campaign manager, said that Saturday will mark the end of the Republican "monologue."

"Now Romney has to put his record and his agenda up against the president's, and we look forward to that debate," Messina said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters.

Romney is expected to meet with former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Friday, a long-awaited rendezvous given that the former Pennsylvania senator has yet to endorse his party's presumptive nominee.

Santorum danced around the issue last week with CNN's Piers Morgan during his first televised interview since he suspended his candidacy on April 10.

He acknowledged Romney would be the "person that's going against Barack Obama," but said he was still "working through it" and discussing it with this wife, Karen.

Newt Gingrich is scheduled to announce the suspension of his campaign on Wednesday, at which point he will back Romney, sources told CNN.

Gingrich expected to end his run Wednesday

Romney will spend much of the coming week fundraising, with events in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

He will also campaign Monday with Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, the latest potential vice presidential candidate to appear with the GOP frontrunner. The freshman senator was an early backer of Romney and appeared with him repeatedly on the stump ahead of her state's primary.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida got the VP scrutiny treatment last week when he appeared with Romney in Pennsylvania. Many political observers see Rubio as the favorite for Romney's vice presidential pick, given his ties to the swing state of Florida, the Hispanic community (he is the son of Cuban immigrants) and members of the grassroots tea party movement.

Rubio was one of three potential candidates mentioned by House Speaker John Boehner in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." Boehner said there is a "long list" of qualified candidates for the GOP ticket, including Rubio, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, all of whom fit his criteria that the pick be capable of serving as president.

"There are a lot of people that I like. But this is a personal choice for Gov. Romney, and I'm confident that he'll have a running mate that will be helpful to the ticket," Boehner told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. "I think the number one quality is: Are they capable of being president in the case of an emergency?"

Democratic Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Haley Barbour, former Mississippi governor and RNC chairman, on Sunday downplayed the importance of the No. 2 pick.

Villaraigosa, a Mexican-American, said he wouldn't expect a Rubio pick to make a large difference with Hispanic voters.

"I don't expect that it's going to win you an election or win you an entire demographic. This is going to be fought on the issues," Villaraigosa said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"Can a vice presidential candidate just change the whole deck? No I don't think so," Barbour said on the CBS program. "The idea that you're going to reshuffle the deck would be very unusual in American history."

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