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Obama says Romney holds 'extreme positions,' Republicans fire back

As Republicans prepare to meet in Tampa, Fla., President Obama calls the positions of their candidate, Mitt Romney, 'extreme.' David Gregory, moderator of NBC's Meet the Press, discusses developments

President Barack Obama says Mitt Romney has locked himself into "extreme positions" on economic and social issues, but the presumptive Republican nominee says the Democratic incumbent has left the American people no better off than they were four years ago.

In an interview with The Associated Press that was released Saturday, Obama said Romney lacks serious ideas, refuses to "own up" to the responsibilities of what it takes to be president, and deals in factually dishonest arguments that could soon haunt him in face-to-face debates.

Obama in the interview appeared to be trying to pre-empt the Republican National Convention opening Monday in Tampa.


Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Barack Obama speaks during an interview with Ben Feller of The Associated Press at the White House on Thursday.

"I can't speak to Governor Romney's motivations," Obama said. "What I can say is that he has signed up for positions, extreme positions, that are very consistent with positions that a number of House Republicans have taken. And whether he actually believes in those or not, I have no doubt that he would carry forward some of the things that he's talked about."

The president cited Romney's call for across-the-board tax cuts that Obama said would mostly help the rich at the expense of everyone else and cost the nation $5 trillion. Obama singled out Romney's opposition to tax credits for producers of wind energy, the kind of issue that carries large political resonance in a battleground state such as Iowa.

And Obama alluded to the abortion issue, thrust to the fore this week when Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin said the female body has a way to "shut that whole thing down" when a woman is the victim of "legitimate rape."

The Republican platform in Tampa calls for a ban on abortion with no specific exceptions for rape or other circumstances. Obama predicted that a President Romney would not "stand in the way" if Congress gave him a bill that stripped away women's control over their reproductive health.

Romney is on record, however, as not opposing abortion in cases of rape and incest or if it will save the mother's life.

Political analysts Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Karen Finney, former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, discuss the impending Republican National Convention, the storm, the "birther" comments and the Romney campaign's effort to stay on message to win the nomination.

Obama also focused in the AP interview on the economy and he spoke of a middle-class revival.

"We aren't where we need to be. Everybody agrees with that," said Obama, who inherited an economy in free fall and now bears responsibility for a recovery that remains weak. "But Governor Romney's policies would make things worse for middle-class families and offer no prospect for long-term opportunity for those striving to get into the middle class," the president said.

The Romney campaign jumped on Obama's "we aren’t where we need to be" line.

"Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan agree," said campaign spokesman Ryan Williams. "The American people know they aren’t better off than they were four years ago."

Obama also offered the AP a glimpse of how he would govern in a second term of divided government, insisting that the forces of the election would help break Washington's stalemate. He said he would be willing to make a range of compromises with Republicans, confident there are some who would rather make deals than remain part of "one of the least productive Congresses in American history."

Mitt Romney ignited controversy in his native Michigan Friday with an off-the-cuff comment he says was intended as a joke, but that the Obama administration is calling a direct invocation of a highly charged issue. NBC News' Peter Alexander reports.

Williams accused Obama of adding trillions to the national debt, blocking domestic energy production, and presiding over high chronic unemployment.

"He promised to change how Washington works, but he admits the nation's capital is as broken as ever," Williams said. "He raided Medicare to pay for Obamacare and is proposing massive tax increases that will kill jobs and hurt our economy. Too many middle-class families are going to sleep each night worried about the future. This may be the best President Obama can do, but it’s not the best America can do. The Romney-Ryan plan for a stronger middle class will jump start our economy and create 12 million new jobs – and most importantly, give Americans hope for a better future."

NBC News' Garrett Haake and The Associated Press contributed to this report.