Former Democratic operative George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday recited an e-mail from the Democratic National Committee to an adviser for a Democratic president.
The host interviewed David Plouffe and began, "[I] got this e-mail from [the] Democratic National Committee...saying Mitt Romney's tax returns release raises more questions than it answers." [MP3 audio here .]
Talking to Barack Obama's top political strategist, Stephanopoulos tossed this softball: "What more do voters need to know about Mitt Romney's taxes and his wealth?" Stephanopoulos continued, "So, you think it's wrong that Mitt Romney only pays about 15 percent of his income in taxes?"
Citing an earlier report indicating that Obama's favorability numbers are rising, the co-host hopefully suggested, "Back in October, the President told me he sees himself as the underdog in this race. And after all these Republican debates, primaries and caucuses, is he still the underdog?"
Even an attempt at a tough question turned into a strategy session. Stephanopoulos began, "More than two-thirds think America is moving in the wrong direction. About one in five Americans is unemployed or underemployed."
But he concluded, "How does the President convince the country to stay the course?"
A transcript of the January 24 segment, which aired at 7:04am EST, can be found below:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's get the White House reaction to all this. As the President gets set for his State of the Union address tonight, David Plouffe, White House senior adviser, top political strategist joins us now. Good morning, David. And I want to begin with those tax returns for Mitt Romney overnight. I'll get to the State of the Union in a second. But, at 6:03am, got this e-mail from Democratic National Committee, a blast e-mail, saying Mitt Romney's tax returns release raises more questions than it answers. What more do voters need to know about Mitt Romney's taxes and his wealth?
DAVID PLOUFFE: Well, George, there will be 47 more Republican primaries and caucuses and those Republican voters will have their say on this specifically. I do think it raises a general point about our tax system here and one of the things the President is going to talk about in the State of the Union something that Warren Buffett famously talked about, that he should not pay less in taxes than his secretary does. The President, as you know, has talked about something called the Buffett rule. We're going to outline that specifically, what that would mean. So, that we make sure everybody in this economy is doing their fair share, which is an important part of how we're going to create jobs-
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you think it's wrong that Mitt Romney only pays about 15 percent of his income in taxes?
PLOUFFE: Well, the point is, we need to change our tax system. We need to make sure that middle class workers are not paying more, in effective tax rates, than people who are making $40 million, $100 million a year. So, we have rules of the road in place right now. I'm sure Mitt Romney, you know, tried to follow them. The question is, we just need change in our tax code, so that everybody is doing their fair share. That is going to be an important part of how we grow an economy that is working for the middle class and is more durable.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We just saw those favorability numbers from John Berman. Back in October, the President told me he sees himself as the underdog in this race. And after all these Republican debates, primaries and caucuses, is he still the underdog?
PLOUFFE: Well, listen, George, we're going to be running next year in a tough economy. And so, we're going to have a very close election. We'll have a very close election. That's just a fact. That's not going to change between now and November. One of the things the President is going to point out tonight in his State of the Union, it's election year. But, the American people demand action right now. He's going to lay out tonight a blueprint for how we build an economy built to last, so that it's more durable. This is make or break for the middle class. We are doing things to ensure more people get into the middle class. We've had three million jobs created over the last 22 months. We're digging out of a huge hole. So, there's a lot more work to do. But, as we being the unemployment rate down, as we create jobs, we also have to focus on what kind of America do we want? We want an America that's build on things like American manufacturing, American energy and the skills and education that our workers need to win and compete.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, as you point out, the President will be in a tough environment. Less than half of the country approves of the job the President is doing. More than two-thirds think America is moving in the wrong direction. About one in five Americans is unemployed or underemployed. How does the President convince the country to stay the course?
PLOUFFE: Well, first of all, before we get to convincing people to staying the course, we have got to convince the American people, our businesses, elected people what is the right thing to do this year on the economy. There's things we can do in terms of making sure everybody is doing their fair share, that hard work and responsibility are rewarded, that we are investing in things we must to create jobs. Then we'll have an election. And, listen, I think if you look what we- what happened in '08, we almost went into a great depression. We had an incredibly steep recession that caused all the jobs loss, that caused a lot of pain to people. And that wasn't an accident. It just didn't just happen. There was a reason for it. And the question for the American people- do they want to go back to the policies, let Wall Street write its own rules? Have taxes and economic policy geared to the super wealthy and not investing in the things we need to? Or what the president is going to lay out tonight, which is a blueprint for an economy not based on bubbles and financial instruments. But, it's the things we know are going to be so important to the future of this country and our middle class.
— Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here  to follow him on Twitter.