Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama on Monday appeared to call out Mitt Romney over what he said about going after Osama bin Laden on the campaign trail four years ago, as opposed to on the eve of the first anniversary of the raid that killed the terrorist leader.
Asked about Romney's comments earlier in the day that the decision to go after bin Laden was a clear one and that "even Jimmy Carter would" have made the call, Obama referred to a difference between what Romney said during his 2008 presidential campaign and on the eve of the first anniversary of the attack.
"I assume that people meant what they said when they said it," Obama said during a joint appearance with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. "That's been at least my practice. I said that I'd go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him, and I did. If there are others who said one thing and now suggest they'd do something else, I'd go ahead and let them explain."
Obama also appeared to take exception with a reporter's question that suggested there was excessive celebration around the anniversary of the al Qaeda leader's death, repeating a charge that Republicans have made.
Coverage of Obama largely negative "I hardly think that you've seen any excessive celebration taking place," Obama said. "I think that the American people likely remember what we as a country accomplished in bringing to justice somebody who killed over 3,000 of our citizens."
Romney's spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, responded in a statement that Obama was using the anniversary of bin Laden's death as "a cheap political ploy" that she said distorted Romney's policies on fighting terrorism.
"While the Obama administration has naively stated that 'the war on terror is over,' Gov. Romney has always understood we need a comprehensive plan to deal with the myriad threats America faces," Saul said.
U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden on May 2, 2011 during a raid in Pakistan.
The war of words around the bin Laden death anniversary started last week when Obama's campaign made it an issue in a Web ad that questioned whether Romney would make the same call in the Oval Office. Former President Bill Clinton narrates parts of the video, in which he praises Obama's decision to order the attack. It also points out Romney saying in 2007 that, "It's not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." Days later, he said, "We'll move everything to get him (bin Laden)."
Asked by a reporter at an event Monday morning whether he would have made the call, Romney said "of course" he would have. "Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order."
Surrogates took up the argument over the bin Laden raid on the Sunday talk shows.
Senior Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs defended the campaign, while senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie characterized it as a "bridge too far."
Gibbs, the former White House press secretary, said the video was "not over the line" and criticized comments Romney made on the issue during his first White House bid as "foolish."
"There's a difference in the roles they would play as commander in chief, and I certainly think that's fair game," Gibbs said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Gillespie, a former aide to President George W. Bush and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said using the raid for political purposes is one of the reasons Obama has "become one of the most divisive presidents in American history."
"He took something that was a unifying event for all Americans, and he's managed to turn it into a divisive, partisan political attack," Gillespie said in a separate interview on the same NBC program. "I think most Americans will see it as a sign of a desperate campaign."
The day Osama bin Laden died
Arizona Sen. John McCain, Obama's 2008 opponent, called the minute-long spot "a cheap political attack ad."
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan avoided politics and praised the president's decision-making skills on the talk shows and in an address Monday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
"One year ago today, President Obama faced the scenario that he discussed here at the Wilson Center five years ago, and he did not hesitate to act," he said.
"The death of bin Laden was our most strategic blow yet against al Qaeda," Brennan said. "Credit for that success belongs to the courageous forces who carried out that mission, at extraordinary risk to their lives; to the many intelligence professionals who pieced together the clues that led to bin Laden's hideout; and to President Obama, who gave the order to go in."
Vice President Joe Biden previewed the theme in a Thursday campaign-style address.
"If you are looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it's pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive," he said during a speech at New York University.
Clinton appeared in a fundraiser with Obama on Sunday night, characterizing Romney as "an opponent who basically wants to do what they did before -- on steroids. Which will get you the same consequences you got before -- on steroids."
Obama will pick up the message with what the campaign has billed as his re-election kick-off Saturday. He is expected to attend campaign rallies in Columbus, Ohio, and Richmond, Virginia, two likely battleground states in the November election.
He cited Ronald Reagan on Monday as he rallied building trade union members, trying to draw a distinction between the conservative icon and the Republican Party that the president is running against now.
"Ronald Reagan once said that rebuilding our infrastructure is common sense; an investment in tomorrow that we need to make today," Obama told the Building and Construction Trades Department Legislative Conference. "Ronald Reagan said that -- that great socialist Ronald Reagan said that. Couldn't get through a Republican primary these days."
Biden will attend campaign events in Missouri and Indiana on Monday and in Washington on Thursday.
Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, said that Saturday will mark the end of the Republican "monologue."
Romney's campaign, meanwhile, announced that its candidate will mark the anniversary of the bin Laden raid in an event with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was dubbed "America's mayor" for his response in the days after bin Laden's 9/11 attacks against the U.S.
Romney's Jimmy Carter comments came at an event in New Hampshire with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, another of those believed to be on Romney's vice president candidate search list. The freshman senator was an early backer of Romney's and appeared with him repeatedly on the stump ahead of her state's primary.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida got the VP scrutiny treatment last week when he appeared with Romney in Pennsylvania. Many political observers see Rubio as the favorite for Romney's vice presidential pick, given his ties to the swing state of Florida, the Hispanic community (he is the son of Cuban immigrants) and members of the grassroots tea party movement.
Rubio was one of three potential candidates mentioned by House Speaker John Boehner in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." Boehner said there is a "long list" of qualified candidates for the GOP ticket, including Rubio, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, all of whom fit his criteria that the pick be capable of serving as president.
Romney will spend much of the coming week fundraising, with events in Pennsylvania and Virginia. He is expected to meet with former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Friday, a long-awaited rendezvous, given that the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania has yet to endorse his party's presumptive nominee.
Santorum danced around the issue last week with CNN's Piers Morgan during his first televised interview since he suspended his candidacy on April 10.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is expected to announce the suspension of his campaign Wednesday, at which point he will back Romney, sources told CNN.