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NBC's Lauer Uses Obama's Own Words to Knock Down Attacks on Ryan

On Monday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer actually used the President's own past statements about Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan to grill deputy Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter: "President Obama said this of Paul Ryan, that he was 'absolutely sincere about wanting to reduce the deficit'...gave him 'credit for at least being willing to put out there some very tough choices.' Does he still feel that way?" [Listen to the audio]

Cutter attempted to rely on the usual Democratic fearmongering, accusing Ryan of a plan "that balances the budget on the backs of the middle class." Lauer called her out for that tactic, again citing Obama's own words: "...he said this, quote, 'We're not going to be able to do anything about these entitlements if what we do characterize whatever proposal's are put out there as well, you know, that's the other party being irresponsible...the other party trying to hurt our senior citizens.' Which sounds exactly what – like what you just said."

In response, Cutter doubled down on the line of attack her boss once denounced: "Well, no, Matt, I disagree. It doesn't sound just like what I just said. The facts are about Mr. Ryan's budget is that it really does balance the budgets on the backs of the middle class and the needy."

Lauer rounded out his tough questioning by wondering: "Paul Ryan is a seven-term congressman from that state. Every time he ran he won with I think a majority of over 60%. Do you worry that he brings Wisconsin in play and that he helps in other rust-belt states?"

Prior to Lauer's interview with Cutter, fellow co-host Savannah Guthrie talked to Romney campaign senior advisor Kevin Madden and suggested the pick of Ryan was a sign of Romney losing: "Governor Romney's been getting a lot of credit for making a bold, game-changing choice here. It strikes me that you don't make a choice like that if you think you are winning the campaign. Is this a tacit acknowledgment the strategy Romney had before, just running against the Obama economy, is not working?"

Guthrie went on to claim that "this pick of Congressman Ryan has delighted both conservatives and liberals, and for one reason, because of the Ryan budget." She also fretted: "The hallmark of Romney's argument to be president is that he's a Washington outsider who has primarily private sector expertise. In Congressman Ryan you have somebody who has spent his entire life in Washington and has zero private sector experience. How do you square that?"

Here is a full transcript of Lauer's August 13 exchange with Cutter:

7:10AM ET

MATT LAUER: Stephanie Cutter is President Obama's deputy campaign manager. Stephanie, good morning to you.

STEPHANIE CUTTER: Good morning.

LAUER: A couple of years ago, President Obama said this of Paul Ryan, that he was "absolutely sincere about wanting to reduce the deficit." He called Ryan's plan "a legitimate proposal" and added that he gave him "credit for at least being willing to put out there some very tough choices." Does he still feel that way?

CUTTER: Well, you know, you – the President said it last night. That he knows Paul Ryan, he thinks Paul Ryan is a good and decent man, he definitely has some very serious ideas. The President just fundamentally disagrees with him. And you know, this pick, I heard the opening talking about how this pick was a courageous and bold pick. It's not courageous to put a Republican budget on the table that doesn't ask for shared sacrifice. It's not courageous to put a Republican budget on the table that balances the budget on the backs of the middle class and doesn't ask anything from the very wealthy. You know, being courageous means you have to buck your own party and Mr. Ryan has never done that.

LAUER: Well when you say that, Stephanie, you know, President Obama addressed Paul Ryan at a GOP retreat in 2010 and he said this, quote, "We're not going to be able to do anything about these entitlements if what we do characterize whatever proposal's are put out there as 'well, you know, that's the other party being irresponsible...the other party trying to hurt our senior citizens.'" Which sounds exactly what – like what you just said.

CUTTER: Well, no, Matt, I disagree. It doesn't sound just like what I just said. The facts are about Mr. Ryan's budget is that it really does balance the budgets on the backs of the middle class and the needy. And that's not a pro-growth policy. And don't take it from me. Take it from independent economists who have studied this budget and said that if we enacted the drastic cuts that Paul Ryan wants to put in place and Mitt Romney wants to put in place, because this is his budget now, too, that it would actually contract the economy. It could mean up to a million jobs, that we would lose. So don't take it from me, take it from independent economists, this is not a pro-growth document. This is an ideological document.

LAUER: Let's talk about Wisconsin. It hasn't voted for a Republican nominee since, I think, 1984. Paul Ryan is a seven-term congressman from that state. Every time he ran he won with I think a majority of over 60%. Do you worry that he brings Wisconsin in play and that he helps in other rust-belt states?

CUTTER: Well, I think we have to see how this plays out. We feel pretty confident on our standing in Wisconsin. I think not just because of the President's popularity but because of what the President believes in. I think the people of Wisconsin, they do want to do something about Medicare to ensure it's there for them and their children, but they don't want to put policies in place that actually end – will mean the beginning of the end of Medicare. They want to make sure that we can keep costs down, not add costs to seniors. They want to make sure that we can balance our budget in a way that's responsible, that protects the investments that we need to grow, like education, like clean energy, like innovation. All of these things that mean good jobs, competitiveness, America, the economy coming back. And that's not what the Ryan budget or the Romney budget does.

LAUER: Alright. We've got a lot of weeks to sort through this. Stephanie Cutter, it's nice of you to spend time with us this morning, I appreciate it.

CUTTER: Thank you for having me.