President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney faced off in the second of three presidential debates Tuesday night at Hofstra University with a series of sharp exchanges over domestic and foreign policy. The debate’s town hall format saw audience members asking pre-approved questions selected by moderator Candy Crowley of CNN. While President Obama was criticized for a lukewarm performance in the first debate earlier this month, he appeared more aggressive on Tuesday, at times challenging Romney over the truthfulness of his claims. Following a question about the deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya last month, Obama received a fact-checking boost from Candy Crowley.
Mitt Romney: “I think it’s interesting the president just said something, which — which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.”
President Obama: “That’s what I said.”
Mitt Romney: “You said in the Rose Garden, the day after the attack, it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.”
President Obama: “Please proceed.”
Mitt Romney: “Is that what you’re saying?”
President Obama: “Please proceed, Governor.”
Mitt Romney: “I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”
President Obama: “Get the transcript.”
Candy Crowley: “He did, in fact, sir. So let me — let me — call it an act of terror in the Rose Garden, used the word.”
President Obama: “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”
Candy Crowley: “He did call it an act of terror. It did, as well, take — it did, as well, take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You’re correct about that.”
Tuesday night marked the first presidential debate moderated by a woman in two decades. Contraception and other so-called women’s issues were featured more prominently than in the first debate. The candidates also sparred over unemployment and taxes.
Mitt Romney: “The president’s policies have been exercised over the last four years, and they haven’t put Americans back to work. We have fewer people working today than we had when the president took office. If the — the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent when he took office; it’s 7.8 percent now. But if you calculated that unemployment rate taking back the people who dropped out of the work force, it would be 10.7 percent. We have not made the progress we need to make to put people back to work. That’s why I put out a five-point plan that gets America 12 million new jobs in four years and rising take-home pay.”
President Obama: “Governor Romney says he’s got a five-point plan. Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That’s been his philosophy in the private sector; that’s been his philosophy as governor; that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate.”
Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein and vice-presidential candidate Cheri Honkala were arrested Tuesday outside Hofstra University after attempting to join the presidential debate. Stein condemned what she called a “this mock debate, this mockery of democracy.” The third-party candidates were blocked by a solid wall of police officers before sitting down on the ground. They were then arrested.
Dr. Jill Stein: “We’re here to stand our ground. We’re here to stand ground for the American people, who have been systematically locked out of these debates for decades by the Commission on Presidential Debates. We think that this commission is entirely illegitimate; that if — if democracy truly prevailed, there would be no such commission, that the debates would still be run by the League of Women Voters, that the debates would be open.”
Police officer: “Ladies and gentlemen, you are obstructing the vehicle of pedestrians and traffic. If you refuse to move you are subject to arrest. … Remove them, bring them back to arrest them, please.”
Hundreds of people rallied outside Hofstra University Tuesday to address some of the issues that were largely excluded from the presidential debate, including the use of drones for targeted killings abroad and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
Carol Kolar: “I’d like them to say that they’re — that they want the Department of Peace, that they want to promote peace, that they don’t want to promote war, they want to end the war in Afghanistan, they want to bring the soldiers home. I’d like them to say that. Realistically, I know that they probably won’t. But I want them to also — also address the fact that war is the big contributor to our deficit, and it is never addressed. And that’s something that I think, as far as foreign policy, war is killing us.”
A U.S. court has overturned the terrorism conviction of Osama bin Laden’s former driver and bodyguard, Salim Ahmed Hamdan. A former Guantánamo prisoner, Hamdan was convicted of material support for terrorism in 2008 in the first U.S. military commission trial in decades. On Tuesday, a court unanimously struck down that conviction because there was no such crime defined under international law at the time. A senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union said the decision “strikes the biggest blow yet against the legitimacy of the Guantánamo military commissions, which have for years now been trying people for a supposed war crime that in fact is not a war crime at all.”
The Syrian government has said a call by U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for a ceasefire during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha this month would likely fail because there is no unified rebel leadership to sign such an agreement. Rebel groups, meanwhile, say they have agreed to unify and establish joint leadership in their struggle to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A unity conference has reportedly been set for early November. On Tuesday, the Syrian military bombarded rebel areas in the north of the country with air strikes and artillery, killing at least 90 people, according to activists. Meanwhile, officials from the World Food Program said some 1.4 million people in Syria required assistance last month, but the violence prevented workers from reaching some of those in need.
Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit stepped down Tuesday in a surprise move following reported tensions with the bank’s board. Pandit was credited with guiding Citigroup through a nationwide financial crisis that indebted and displaced homeowners, tanked the U.S. economy and led to massive government bailouts, including $45 billion in funds to Citigroup. In April, Citigroup shareholders rejected a $15 million pay package for Pandit in a landmark vote marking the first time stockowners at a financial giant had united to reject a massive compensation package. But the Associated Press reports Pandit still made at least $56.4 million since joining the bank in December of 2007. A second Citigroup executive, President and Chief Operating Officer John Havens, also resigned. Pandit was replaced by Michael Corbat, former CEO of the bank’s Europe, Middle East and Africa division.
The Supreme Court has paved the way for voters in Ohio to cast ballots on the three days before the presidential election, refusing to hear an appeal by Republicans attempting to curb early voting in the crucial battleground state. Republicans had appealed a lower court decision reinstating early voting on the three days before the election for everyone, not just overseas voters and members of the military. In 2008, when Obama won the state of Ohio, more than 100,000 people cast ballots in the three days before the election.
In news affecting another battleground state, a federal appeals court has decided not to rule on a challenge to Florida’s plan to purge nearly 200 voters from the rolls until after the election. Florida had initially claimed to have identified nearly 200,000 possible non-citizen voters, but that number was downgraded to about 2,600. Officials now say they have identified 198 people who are non-citizens.
In the West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli activists blocked traffic on a highway into Jerusalem Tuesday to protest repeated attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinian olive groves. Israeli soldiers used tear gas and stun grenades against protesters. Hundreds of olive trees that provide a livelihood for Palestinians in the West Bank were uprooted, burned or chopped down by settlers during the first week of the harvest this month. One protester condemned the attacks.
Mahmoud Zawahreh: “Today’s activity, to close Route 443, which goes through the Palestinian lands, tying together the settler terrorists who are uprooting olive trees and burning them. We came as part of the popular committees to close this road and to tell them that we are stronger than your streets, your weapons and your settlers, and you should stop settler terrorism, which they are carrying out against all our Palestinian lands by uprooting anything that gives life on this land, specifically the blessed olive tree, the symbol for peace and love.”
Afghan officials in Helmand province said a NATO strike there killed three children from the same family as they were gathering fuel on Sunday. NATO forces had reportedly been targeting nearby insurgents. Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting the Afghan army is so riddled with desertions and low re-enlistment rates that it is forced to replace a third of its ranks every year. Deserters have complained about corrupt officers, low-quality food and supplies, and Taliban intimidation. While concern over possible infiltration following a rash of insider attacks has tightened the recruitment process, the paper reports less than 1,000 Afghan military applicants were rejected over a six-month period ending in September, while 30,000 were approved.