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Obama continues NAFTA criticism

From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
LORAINE, OHIO -- At a press conference here today, Obama claimed that Hillary Clinton had to take responsibility for the passage of NAFTA, because "she has essentially presented herself as co-president during the Clinton years."

Asked why Obama was attacking Clinton on NAFTA when neither candidate held an elected office to influence the passage of that legislation, Obama fired back saying that the "premise" of Clinton's candidacy "has been 35 years of experience, including eight years in the White House." 

He argued that Clinton takes credit for "every good thing that happened" and said that it allowed her to be attacked on the bad as well.

"The notion that you can selectively pick what you take credit for and then run away from what isn't politically convenient that doesn't make sense. If she suggested she had nothing to do with economic policy in the Clinton White House, then it would not be fair for me to bring it up but as you know, that's not the claim that she is making," Obama said.

NAFTA has turned into a political hot potato as Clinton and Obama stump in Ohio, where the loss of manufacturing jobs has devastated the local economy. Obama has repeatedly attacked Clinton on NAFTA in recent days, as he tries to cut into her lead in the polls here.

At the National Gypsum Plant in Loraine, Obama held a small town hall where workers had a chance to ask questions. Over and over again, the issue of NAFTA was raised with one worker openly criticizing Clinton and President Clinton for the bill which he said "devastated" lives in this part of the country.

At a press conference yesterday, Clinton challenged Obama to "meet me in Ohio" at the MSNBC debate on Tuesday, after harshly criticizing him for sending out a mailer that misquoted her saying that NAFTA was a "boon" to the economy. 

Obama claimed that he was "looking forward to the debate," but he said that he doubted that little new would come from the discussion. He reminded reporters and those present that this would be the 20th time the two candidates have debated each other.

"We have a difference on NAFTA. And that's what my mailer said, and I just read her words, her quotes about NAFTA. So the notion that somehow I was misleading on that issue is not factually accurate," Obama said about a possible issue that would be raised at the debate.

Obama, for the first time, clarified his wife's comments from several days ago, when she came under criticism for saying that this was the first time she was "proud" of her country.

"I think she already clarified this, she was very clear about it. She simply misspoke. Because what she was referring to is this was the first time she'd been proud of politics in America. And that's true for a lot of folks who had been cynical and disenchanted. She spoke about how she'd been cynical American politics, for a very long time but she's proud of how people are participating and involved in ways they haven't for a very long time," he said.

He argued that Republicans wouldn't be able to use an argument that he's not patriotic enough against him because people have already tried to do so, and it has not worked. He also dismissed Ralph Nader's entry into the race, and Nader's criticisms that Obama was too conciliatory to corporate interests.  

Workers at the plant questioned Obama on whether NAFTA could be repealed, and he said that it could not though he wants to renegotiate parts of it to include better labor and environmental protections. He said that it when to came to trade, he believed in it deeply but that "the rules of the road have to be fair to everybody."

He argued that if trade agreements do not contain better worker and environmental and safety protections, the country would start seeing protectionist rhetoric not just from Democrats but also from Republicans.

"So what I'm trying to do is, you know, not strangling the goose that lays the golden egg.  The benefits of trade apply to everybody and the burdens apply to everybody instead of just you know making some people very wealthy and a lot of people hurting," he said.