(MIAMI) — President Obama said Thursday the “most important” lesson he learned during his first term in the White House is that “you can’t change Washington from the inside,” a comment that prompted Mitt Romney to quip he intended to give Obama that chance on Election Day.
The president was speaking at a “Meet the Candidates” forum hosted by the Spanish-language network Univision when he was asked about his biggest failure.
The president said not enacting immigration reform legislation was his biggest failure, but went on to discuss his 2008 promise to bring change to Washington.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside,” Obama said.
“That’s how I got elected and that’s how the big accomplishments like healthcare got done, was because we mobilized the American people to speak out. That’s how we were able to cut taxes for middle-class families,” the president said.
Obama said that in a second term he would maintain “a much more constant conversation with the American people” to attempt to leverage their support to spur Congress to act on his agenda.
Romney, who addressed the same Univision group Wednesday night, immediately seized on the remark, calling it a concession by Obama that he failed to change Washington in the way he promised four years ago.
“The president threw in the white flag of surrender. He said he can’t change Washington from the inside,” Romney told a crowd of supporters at a rally in Sarasota, Fla. “We’re going to give him that chance in November, he’s going outside. I can change Washington. I will change Washington. I will get the job done from the inside.”
“His slogan was ‘Yes, we can.’ His slogan now is, ‘No, I can’t,'” said Romney. “This is time for a new president. He went from the president of change to the president who can’t get change.”
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard him today,” Romney continued.
The Republican hammered away at Obama’s statement.
“Isn’t that amazing? No wonder he’s had such a hard time over the last four years,” he said.
Romney noted that in Obama’s first two years in office the Democrats also controlled Congress.
“He got to do whatever the heck he wanted to, but he says he can’t change it from the inside. Well I will,” Romney vowed.
Since Obama first accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, he has spoken regularly about “change” being best affected by outside pressure on government from ordinary citizens.
“As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government,” he said at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., earlier this month.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jeremy Diamond, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Jim Acosta and Greg Clary, CNN