From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe dismissed the Canada-NAFTA story today, calling it "way overblown" and part of the Clinton campaign's "kitchen sink" strategy
Plouffe said Austan Goolsbee, a senior adviser and professor at the University of Chicago, met with Canadian officials unofficially during a walking tour he gave them at his university.
"This is being reported as an official meeting of an Obama representative," Plouffe said. "They were having a casual conversation, and the report on that conversation is just not accurate."
The report he was referring to was a memo by the Canadian government, released to the AP, which characterizes the meeting this way, "Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."
But Plouffe had told reporters days earlier in another conference call that Goolsbee did not meet with Canadian officials. When asked about it today, he said it was "not a formal conversation. This is something that was done in context of his university. So, again this is being way overblown. This is part of the kitchen sink campaign."
The Canadian Embassy also released a statement on the matter, and it was circulated by the Obama campaign. "In the recent report produced by the Consulate General in Chicago, there was no intention to convey, in any way, that Senator Obama and his campaign team were taking a different position in public from views expressed in private, including about NAFTA," the statement said. "We deeply regret any inference that may have been drawn to that effect."
It went on to highlight something that has bubbled over in Canadian Parliament today: "The people of the United States are in the process of choosing a new President and are fortunate to have strong and impressive candidates from both political parties. Canada will not interfere in this electoral process."
*** UPDATE *** At a hectic-sounding press conference, Obama took questions on the issue and said, per NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan, "As I said just understand the context. Nobody reached out to the Canadians to try to reassure them. They reached out, unbeknownst to the rest of us, they reached out to Mr. Goolsbee who provided them with a tangible conversation and repeated what we've said on the campaign trail, which is that we belive in trade with Canada.
"We believe in trade with Mexico; we think the terms of NAFTA have to be altered, so that the labor standards and the environmental standards are enforceable. But there's nothing more there. I have said repeatedly that I believe that NAFTA should be rengotiated. This is not a new posititon; it dates back many years. During my U.S. Senate campaign, I was criticized for taking this position. It's been well reported; it hasn't altered, which stands in contrast to Sen. Clinton's position, which has altered substantially. "