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White House: Some 'scratching their heads' over Romney comments

The Obama White House took a subtle swipe at Mitt Romney on Monday after the Republican Presidential candidate made some controversial comments during a fundraiser in Israel. Romney told a group of supporters, Israel’s GDP is higher than the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority because “culture makes all the difference.” (See earlier First Read post for more context.)

A senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the comments “racist," according to the AP. The Romney campaign pushed back, saying Romney's comments were mischaracterized. One Romney aide also noted that overall, he "got public and strong support while he was [in Israel]."

During the White House daily briefing, Deputy Press Secretary, Josh Earnest was peppered with questions about the incident. 

“One of the challenges of being an actor on the international stage, particularly when you’re traveling to such a sensitive part of the world, is that your comments are very closely scrutinized for meaning, for nuance, for motivation," Earnest said, adding, "and it is clear that there are some people who have taken a look at those comments and are scratching their heads a little bit.”

When pressed, Earnest stopped short of elaborating on the larger implications of Romney’s comments.

“I would leave it to Gov. Romney to explain them, to the extent that there’s some measure of confusion," he said.

This latest incident comes after Romney touched off a firestorm in the U.K. last week when he questioned London’s preparedness for the Olympic Games. In an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, Romney said, “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out,” and he called questions about the level of security staffing “disconcerting.” Romney quickly walked back those comments, later telling reporters, “I expect the games to be highly successful.”

In that instance, the White House also seemed armed with a response. Although he did not directly address Romney’s comments about the Olympics, Press Secretary Jay carney attempted to draw a sharp distinction while briefing reporters.

"In keeping with our special relationship, the president also made it clear that he has the utmost confidence in our close friend and ally, the United Kingdom, as they finalize preparations to host the London Olympics,” Carney said then.

Romney is hoping his trip abroad will help him solidify his credentials as a leader who is capable of performing on the world stage.  He wraps up his foreign tour in Poland, where he is today.