DANVILLE, Va. — Campaigning in southern Virginia on Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden told an audience that Mitt Romney's approach to regulating the financial industry will “put y'all back in chains,” a remark that triggered a flurry of Republican criticism, including a sharp rebuke from the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
“Look at their budget and what they're proposing,” Biden said. “Romney wants to let the — he said in the first hundred days, he is going to let the big banks once again write their own rules. Unchain Wall Street. They are going to put y'all back in chains.”
Biden made the comments at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, where he kicked off a two-day campaign tour of southern and southwestern Virginia.
He spoke before what appeared to be a racially varied audience of 900 people, and one prominent Republican suggested that his language could be interpreted as racially divisive.
Romney, who visited Ohio on Tuesday on his swing state bus tour, used Biden's remark to level a harsh criticism at President Barack Obama.
“His campaign and his surrogates have made wild and reckless accusations that disgrace the office of the presidency,” Romney said. “Another outrageous charge came a few hours ago in Virginia. And the White House sinks a little bit lower.”
Romney has said that if he is elected, he will work to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory bill signed into law by Obama in 2010. Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, also has been an outspoken critic of the law.
The Romney campaign lashed back at Biden's remarks and called on Obama to say publicly whether he agrees with the comments.
“After weeks of slanderous and baseless accusations leveled against Governor Romney, the Obama campaign has reached a new low,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “The comments made by the vice president of the United States are not acceptable in our political discourse and demonstrate yet again that the Obama campaign will say and do anything to win this election.”
The Obama campaign defended Biden's remarks.
“For months, Speaker Boehner, Congressman Ryan and other Republicans have called for the 'unshackling' of the private sector from regulations that protect Americans from risky financial deals and other reckless behavior that crashed our economy,” deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said. “Since then, the vice president has often used a similar metaphor to describe the need to 'unshackle' the middle class. Today's comments were a derivative of those remarks.”
But John Sununu, a Romney surrogate and former governor of New Hampshire, suggested the comments might be interpreted in a racial context.
“There's going to be folks across the country that will try and take that as some kind of code word that is going to suggest that the Republicans are trying to be racial in their programs,” Sununu said on MSNBC.
Tuesday's remarks weren't the first time Biden, a candid and outspoken politician, has attracted widespread attention for making off-the-cuff comments.
In 2009, when concerns about swine flu were widespread, Biden raised eyebrows when he said in an interview on NBC News that he was advising his family against “going anywhere in confined places.”
More recently, Biden said in May that he was comfortable with same-sex marriage, a remark that prompted immediate questions about whether the president agreed.
At an event later on Tuesday in Wytheville, Va., Biden referenced his earlier remarks and the resulting Republican outrage.
“I got a message for them,” Biden said. “If you want to know what's outrageous, it's their policies and the effects of their policies on middle-class America. That's what's outrageous.”