Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney unleashed a torrent of criticism from his GOP rivals for the nomination and from Democrats when he suggested on Monday that “I like being able to fire people” when they provide him with poor service. The uproar prompted Romney to say his comments were taken out of context.
“I understand in politics, people can decide to grasp at anything and take it out of context and make it something it’s not,” he said. “That’s the nature of the process. I’ve got to be an adult about it and recognize it comes with the territory.”
Although Romney was discussing the ability of people to fire their health insurance companies when the companies do a bad job, his rivals are using the comment to suggest Romney meant that he enjoyed firing people when he worked for Bain Capital, a private-equity firm that does mergers and acquisitions.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, campaigning in Concord, N.H., said that Romney “enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs.”
Perry and other Romney rivals quickly enlisted donations of $22 to represent the 22 percent of companies Romney bought while an executive at Bain Capital that they claimed went bankrupt.
The comment seems sure to haunt Romney for the duration of the primary season and beyond. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced a press conference in Manchester, N.H., on Monday to feature Randy Johnson, a worker who says he was laid off as a result of one of Romney’s Bain Capital deals. Wasserman Schultz, in a statement, slammed Romney for “saying yesterday he has thought he might get a pink slip and today that he likes to fire people.”
Wasserman Schultz also said, “Mitt Romney believes America should join a race to the bottom based on loopholes and outsourcing. He believes that Wall Street should be able to write its own rules again and pursue whatever means necessary to create profits, regardless of the consequences for middle-class families.”
A super PAC established by allies of President Obama put out a statement slamming Romney for his work at Bain. “Unlike small-business owners who take great risk to put themselves on the line, Mitt Romney was guaranteed millions of dollars no matter the outcome of his Wall Street buyout enterprise,” said the statement from Priorities USA Action. “Romney’s absurd rhetoric is inconsistent with the facts surrounding his own situation and insensitive to the thousands of Americans who lost their jobs so Romney could extract millions for himself.”
Romney’s comment came at a local Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Nashua, N.H. The former Massachusetts governor was discussing his proposal to make individual health insurance policies available at affordable rates on the open market so that people have a direct connection with the insurance providers.
He said: “I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. … You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service, then I want to say, ‘I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.’”
Asked later about the reaction to his comment, Romney said he stood by his belief that people should be able to "get rid of" insurance companies they dislike.
“I don’t want to have to live in a world where we have Obamacare telling us which insurance we have to have, which doctor we can have, which hospital we go to,” he said. “I believe in a setting as I described this morning where people are able to choose their own doctor, choose their own insurance company. If they don’t like their insurance company or their provider they get rid of them. That’s the way America works.”
Rebecca Kaplan contributed