Thursday, October 18, 2012

Transcripts & Video: President Obama & Mitt Romney's Remarks, 2012 Alfred E. Smith Dinner

"Everyone, please take your seats--otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them"...
New York City:  President Obama on Thursday night gave a jocular keynote at the 67th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.  GOP challenger Mitt Romney also addressed the crowd gathered for the white-tie fundraiser at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel on Park Avenue.  A full post about the dinner is here.

Gov. Romney addressed the dinner first. The event was emceed by Alfred E. Smith IV, the great-grandson of the man the event is named for, a four-term New York governor who was the first Catholic to run for president.

President Obama's remarks:

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                      
October 18, 2012


Waldorf Towers
New York, New York

9:23 P.M. EDT

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Everyone, please take your seats -- otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them.  (Laughter.)

     Thank you to Al and Ann.  To Your Eminence; Governor, Mrs. Romney; Governor Cuomo; Mayor Bloomberg; Senator Schumer; all the distinguished guests who are here.

     In less than three weeks, voters in states like Ohio and Virginia and Florida will decide this incredibly important election -- which begs the question, what are we doing here?  (Laughter.)

     Of course, New Yorkers also have a big choice to make -- you have to decide which one of us you want holding up traffic for the next four years.  (Laughter.)

     Tonight I am here with a man whose father was a popular governor, and who knows what it's like to run a major Northeastern state, and who could very well be president someday -- and I'm hoping it is Andrew Cuomo.  (Laughter and applause.)

     This is the third time that Governor Romney and I have met recently.  As some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy at our second debate.  (Laughter.)  I felt really well rested after the nice, long nap I had in the first debate.  (Laughter and applause.)  Although it turns out millions of Americans focused in on the second debate who didn’t focus in on the first debate -- and I happen to be one of them.  (Laughter.)

I particularly want to apologize to Chris Matthews.  (Laughter.)  Four years ago, I gave him a thrill up his leg -- (laughter) -- this time around I gave him a stroke.  (Laughter.)

And of course, there's a lot of things I learned from that experience.  For example, I learned that there are worse things that can happen to you on your anniversary than forgetting to buy a gift. (Laughter and applause.)  So, take note, gentlemen.

Now, win or lose, this is my last political campaign.  So I'm trying to drink it all in.  Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg will only let me have 16 ounces of it.  (Laughter.)  That's okay, I'm still making the most of my time in the city.  Earlier today, I went shopping at some stores in Midtown.  I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in Midtown.  (Laughter.)

And it brought back some great memories because, some of you know, I went to school here in New York, had a wonderful experience here.  (Applause.)  Used to love walking through Central Park, loved to go to old Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth built -- although he really did not build that.  (Laughter.) I hope everybody is aware of that.  (Applause.)

It’s been four years since I was last at the Al Smith Dinner.  And I have to admit some things have changed since then. I've heard some people say, "Barack, you're not as young as you used to be.  Where's that golden smile?  Where's that pep in your step?"  And I say, "Settle down, Joe, I'm trying to run a Cabinet meeting."  (Laughter.)  He does smile when he says it, though.  (Laughter.)

Tomorrow it's back to campaigning.  I visit cities and towns across our great country, and I hear the same thing everywhere I go -- honestly, we were hoping to see Michelle.  (Laughter.)  And I have to admit it can be a grind.  Sometimes it feels like this race has dragged on forever.  But Paul Ryan assured me that we've only been running for two hours and 50-something minutes.  (Laughter and applause.)

Of course, the economy is on everybody’s minds.  The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since I took office.  I don’t have a joke here.  I just thought it would be useful to remind everybody that the unemployment rate is at the lowest it’s been since I took office.  (Laughter and applause.)

     And we’re getting to that time when folks are making up their minds.  Just the other day, Honey Boo Boo endorsed me.  (Laughter.)  So that’s a big relief.

Ultimately, though, tonight is not about the disagreements Governor Romney and I may have.  It’s what we have in common -- beginning with our unusual names.  Actually, Mitt is his middle name.  I wish I could use my middle name.  (Laughter and applause.)

     And even though we’re enjoying ourselves tonight, we’re both thinking ahead to our final debate on Monday.  I’m hoping that Governor Romney and I will have a chance to answer the question that is on the minds of millions of Americans watching at home:  Is this happening again?  (Laughter.)  Why aren’t they putting on The Voice?  (Laughter.)

     Monday’s debate is a little bit different because the topic is foreign policy.  Spoiler alert:  We got bin Laden.  (Laughter and applause.)  Of course, world affairs are a challenge for every candidate.  After -- some of you guys remember, after my foreign trip in 2008, I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas.  And I have to say, I’m impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem. (Laughter and applause.)

     Now, just so everyone knows, in our third debate we won’t spend a whole lot of time interrupting each other.  We will also interrupt the moderator, just to mix things up.  (Laughter.)

And finally, let me say that I’ve been doing some thinking, and I’ve decided that for our final debate I’m going to go back to the strategy I used to prepare for the first debate.  (Laughter.)  I’m just kidding -- I’m trying to make Axelrod sweat a little bit.  (Laughter and applause.)  Get him a little nervous.  (Laughter.)

In all seriousness, I couldn’t be more honored to be here this evening.  I’m honored to be with leaders of both the private and public sectors, and particularly the extraordinary work that is done by the Catholic Church.  (Applause.)  

It’s written in Scripture that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  This country has fought through some very tough years together, and while we still have a lot of work ahead, we’ve come as far as we have mainly because of the perseverance and character of ordinary Americans.  And it says something about who we are as a people that in the middle of a contentious election season, opposing candidates can share the same stage; people from both parties can come together -- (applause) -- come together to support a worthy cause.

And I particularly want to thank Governor Romney for joining me, because I admire him very much as a family man and a loving father, and those are two titles that will always matter more than any political ones.  (Applause.)

So we may have different political perspectives, but I think -- in fact, I’m certain -- that we share the hope that the next four years will reflect the same decency and the same willingness to come together for a higher purpose that are on display this evening.  May we all, in the words of Al Smith, do our full duty as citizens.
God bless you.  God bless your families.  And may God bless the United States of America.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

                        END             9:33 P.M. EDT

Gov. Romney's remarks:

MITT ROMNEY: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you so much. Your Eminence Cardinal Dolan, Mr. president, Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Schumer, Al and Ann Smith, thank you for your invitation. Thank you for your extraordinary warm welcome. Ann and I appreciate your friendship very, very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

Now, AL, you are right. A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes. We -- blue jeans in the morning perhaps, a suit for a lunch fundraise, sport coat for dinner. But it's nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house. (Laughter, applause.) I'm glad to be able to join in this venerable tradition. Of course, I'm pleased that the president's here. We were chatting pleasantly this evening as if Tuesday night never happened. (Laughter.)

And I credit that of course to the cardinal. It's taken New York's highest spiritual authority to get us back on our best behavior. I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening because he'll laugh at anything. (Laughter, applause.) Of course, this isn't a night for serious politics and it was especially nice to see President Obama and Cardinal Dolan sharing the dais despite their differences. I'm sure the cardinal has no hard feelings and we might get an indication of that during dinner to see if the president's wine turns into water. Or for that matter, whether my water turns into wine. (Laughter.)

I'm pleased to once again have the chance to see Governor Cuomo who's already being talked about for higher office -- a very impressive fellow. But he may be getting a little ahead of himself. I mean, let me get this straight. The man has put in one term as a governor, he has a father who happened to be a governor and he thinks that's enough to run for president. (Laughter, applause.) Of course, we're down to the final months of the president's term. As presidents -- (laughter).

As President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room, with everyone in white tie and finery, you have to wonder what he's thinking. So little time, so much to redistribute. (Laughter, applause.) And don't be surprised if the president mentions this evening the monthly jobs report where there was a slight improvement in the numbers.

He knows how to seize the moment, this president, and already has a compelling new campaign slogan: you're better off now than you were four weeks ago. (Laughter.) You know, with or without all the dignitaries that are here, the Al Smith Dinner surely lives up to its billing. Usually when I get invited to gatherings like this, it's just to be the designated driver. (Laughter, applause.)

Your kind hospitality here tonight gives me a chance to convey my deep and long held respect for the Catholic Church. I have special admiration for the Apostle St. Peter, to whom it is said: upon this rock I will build my church. The story's all the more inspiring when you consider that he had so many skeptics and scoffers at the time who were heard to say: if you've got a church, you didn't build that. (Laughter.)

Of course, only 19 days to go until the finish line, campaign full of surprises. The debates are very exciting. Just the other night we had a very fun debate. Candy Crowley was there and was happy to welcome us. But people seem to be very curious as to how we prepare for the debates. Let me tell you what I do. First, refrain from alcohol for 65 years before the debate. (Laughter.) Second, find the biggest available straw man and then just mercilessly attack it. Big Bird didn't even see it coming. (Laughter.)

And by the way, in the spirit of Sesame Street, the president's remarks tonight are brought to you by the letter O and the number 16 trillion. (Laughter.) Campaigns can be grueling, exhausting. President Obama and I are each very lucky to have one person who's always in our corner, someone who we can lean on and someone who's a comforting presence without whom we wouldn't be able to go another day. I have my beautiful Ann. He has Bill Clinton. (Laughter.)

We got a big dose of the Biden charm last week, I'll tell you that, in his debate with Paul Ryan. I'm not sure that all that carrying on had quite the effect that Joe intended because afterwards I heard from the Federal Election Commission. From now on, whenever he appears on TV, there's a recording immediately afterwards that says: I'm Mitt Romney and I approved this message. (Laughter.) Of course, rules of fairness have to be enforced because what other safeguard do we have besides the press, and -- (laughter, applause).

Now, I'd never suggest that the press is biased. I recognize they have their job to do and I have my job to do. My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country. And their job is to make sure no one else finds out about it. (Laughter, applause.) Let's just say that some in the media have a certain way of looking at things. When suddenly I pulled ahead in some of the major polls, what was the headline? Polls show Obama leading from behind. (Laughter.) And I've already seen early reports from tonight's dinner. Headline: Obama embraced by Catholics. Romney dines with rich people. (Laughter, applause.)

Of course, the president has put his own stamp on relations with the church. There've been some awkward moments, like when the president pulled Pope Benedict aside to share some advice on how to deal with his critics. He said, look, Holy Father, whatever the problem is, just blame it on Pope John Paul II. (Laughter.) Of course, the president has found a way to take the sting out of the "Obamacare" mandates for the church. From now on, they're going to be in Latin. (Laughter.)

We have very fundamental and sound principles that guide both the president and me. He and I of course feel the pressures and tensions of a close contest. It'd be easy to let a healthy competition give way to the personal and the petty. But fortunately, we don't carry the burden of disliking one another. Our president has had some very fine and gracious moments. Don't tell him when I said so but our 44th president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud. You can oppose -- (applause).

In our country, you can oppose someone in politics and make a confident case against their policies without any ill will and that's how it is for me. There's more to life than politics. At the Al Smith Foundation and the Archdiocese of New York, you show this in the work you do, in causes that run deeper than allegiance to party or to any contest of the moment.

No matter which way the political winds are blowing, what work goes on day in and day out by this organization and you, you answer with calm and with wiling hearts, in service to the poor, in care for the sick, in defense of the rights of conscience and in solidarity with the innocent child waiting to be born. You strive to bring God's love into every life. (Applause.)

I don't presume to have all your support and on a night like this I'm certainly not going to ask for it. But you can be certain that in the great causes of compassion that you come together to embrace that I stand proudly with you as an ally and friend. God bless you all and God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)


Romney transcript courtesy of Federal News Service.

*C-SPAN video