President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney met for the second of three debates Tuesday night at Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y. The debate was a town hall format, with the candidates taking questions from undecided voters from the New York area and follow-ups from the moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley.
Crowley struggled at times to keep the candidates on track in a discussion that often became tense and borderline confrontational, with Romney and Obama frequently interrupting each other and walking around the stage intermittently.
The most heated exchange came over Obama's handling of the recent situation in Libya in which a U.S. ambassador was killed. Romney told the audience that it took the Obama administration two weeks to call the incident an "act of terror," but Obama insisted that he had referred to it as such the day afterward during a speech in the Rose Garden. "Read the transcript," he sniped at Romney. (Crowley later confirmed that Obama did use the phrase.)
When he was next given a turn to speak, Obama admonished Romney for his mischaracterization. "The suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the Secretary of State, our UN ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics of mislead when we've lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That's not what we do. That's not what I do as president."
The audience, despite having been instructed beforehand to only applaud when the two candidates were introduced, cheered.
Here's a rundown of some of the questions posed by those in the audience (responses have been edited for length):
Can you address inequalities in the workplace, including women getting paid less than men?
Romney: "We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet [in Massachusetts]. I went to a number of women's groups and said, can you help us find folks? They brought us whole binders full of women. I recognize that if you're going to have women in the work force, that sometimes you need to be more flexible."
Obama: "Women are increasingly the breadwinners in the family. This is not just a women's issue. This is a family issue. This is a middle class issue. ... We've also got to make sure that in every walk of life, we do not tolerate discrimination. That's been one of the hallmarks of my administration. I'm going to continue to push on this issue for the next four years."
What will you do to bring gas prices down?
Romney: "I will fight to create more energy in this country, to get America energy secure, and part of that is bringing in a pipeline of oil from Canada, taking advantage of the oil and coal we have here, drilling offshore in Alaska, drilling offshore in Virginia. ... Those things will get us the energy we need."
Obama (to Romney): "When you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, 'This plant kills,' and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you're a big champion of coal."
Would you eliminate tax cuts for the middle class?
Romney: "The top 5 percent of taxpayers will continue to pay 60 percent of the income tax the nation collects. So that will stay the same. Middle income people are going to get a tax break. ... I will not under any circumstances reduce the share that's being paid by the highest income taxpayers. And I will not, under any circumstances, increase taxes on the middle class. ... I know what it takes to balance budgets. I've done it my entire life."
Obama: "In addition to some tough spending cuts, we've also got to make sure that the wealthy do a little bit more. So what I've said is, 'Your first $250,000 worth of income, no change. ... For above 250,000, we can go back to the tax rates we had when Bill Clinton was president.' ... We haven't heard from the governor any specifics beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood in terms of how he pays for that. ... Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, 'Here, I want to spend 7 or 8 trillion dollars and we're going to pay for it, but we can't tell you until maybe after the election how we're going to do it,' you wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal. And neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn't add up."
(For Romney) What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush?
Romney: "President Bush and I are different people, and these are different times. ... Our party has been focused on big business too long. I came through small business. I understand how hard it is to start a small business. That's why everything I'll do is designed to help small businesses grow and add jobs. I want to keep their taxes down."
Obama: "We have been digging our way out of policies that were misplaced and focused on the top doing very well and middle class folks not doing well. ... When Governor Romney says that he has a very different economic plan, the centerpiece of his economic plan are tax cuts. That's what took us from surplus to deficit."
What is your plan for immigrants without a green card who are living as productive members of society?
Romney: "We welcome legal immigrants into this country. I want our legal system to work clearer. ... I also think that we should give visas, green cards rather, to people who graduate with skills that we need. ... We're going to have to stop illegal immigration. There are four million people who are waiting in line to get here legally. Those who come here illegally take their place, so I will not grant amnesty to those who come here illegally. ... The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids I think should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States, and military service for instance is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident."
Obama: "The first thing we did was to streamline the legal immigration system, to reduce the backlog, make it easier, simpler and cheaper for people who are waiting in line obeying the law to make sure that they can come here and contribute to our country. ... We've put more border patrol on than any time in history and the flow of undocumented workers across the border is actually lower than it's been in four years. ... If we're going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gangbangers, people who are hurting the community. Not after students, not after folks who are here just because they're trying to figure out how to feed their families. ... For young people who understand themselves as Americans in every way except having papers, then we should make sure that we give them a pathway to citizenship."
What plans do you have to put back and keep jobs here in the United States?
Romney: "We have made it less attractive for enterprises to stay here than to go offshore from time to time. What I will do as president is make sure it's more attractive to come to America again. ... We're going to have to make sure that as we trade with other nations that they play by the rules, and China hasn't. ... On day one, I will label China a currency manipulator, which will allow me as president to be able to put in place if necessary tariffs where I believe that they are taking unfair advantage of our manufacturers. ... We can compete with anyone in the world as long as the playing field is level. China's been cheating over the years, one by holding down the value of their currency, number two by stealing our intellectual property, our designs, our patents, our technology. ... We will have to have people play on a fair basis."
Obama: "We've put unprecedented trade pressure on China. That's why exports have significantly increased under my presidency. There's some jobs that are not going to come back, because they're low-wage, low-skilled jobs. I want high-wage, high-skill jobs. That's why we have to emphasize manufacturing."
What did you think of the debate? Who do you think won?