July 15, 2024

Obama Lauds Bailout at Visit to Chrysler Plant

In the center of auto country and straddling two political swing states, Mr. Obama visited a Chrysler plant here to hail the auto industry’s comeback two years after he approved a $60 billion conditional bailout for Chrysler and General Motors, and to receive the gratitude of hundreds of enthusiastic employees.

“Thanks for saving my job,” one young man told him at shift change. On the assembly line a woman spun around, to show the words “Thank you” on her T-shirt’s back.

Yet Mr. Obama left Washington that morning with a fresh reminder of just how many millions more people remained out of work — the news that the government’s monthly jobs report showed a slump in the growth of hiring in the private sector and an increase in the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent.

He never directly addressed the jobs report in a speech that mixed celebration for the auto industry’s revival and sober acknowledgment of lingering pain in the general economy. By contrast, last month when Mr. Obama also visited a factory, in Maryland, a far-better jobs report merited positive mention in his remarks. When Mr. Obama later made a stop at a hardware store, he ignored a reporter’s shouted question about the data.

In the third year of his presidency, Mr. Obama can claim credit for helping to bring the country back from the brink of financial collapse and out of the deepest recession since the Great Depression, but not for a full economic recovery.

The jobs report is just one of several recent indicators of continued weakness that underscore how improbable it is that the economic picture will be much better — if it gets better at all — before voters make up their minds next year. And this summer Mr. Obama faces a big test of whether he can reach agreement with Congressional Republicans to significantly reduce a mounting federal debt — a challenge with implications for the economy, as another Wall Street rating firm warned this week, as well as for Mr. Obama’s re-election prospects.

“Now, I don’t want to pretend like everything is solved,” Mr. Obama told about 350 Chrysler workers, as he shifted from praising the success of the bailout. “We’ve still got a long way to go not just in this industry, but in our economy.” He compared the economy to a person who had been hit by a truck — “It’s taking a while to mend.”

Mr. Obama acknowledged that as happy as the workers were to have their jobs assembling the Jeep Wrangler, “there’s nobody here who doesn’t know someone who is looking for work and hasn’t found something yet.” (“Right!” a man yelled.)

“Headwinds” keep buffeting the recovery, Mr. Obama said — lately in the form of high gas prices, economic disruptions from Japan’s post-earthquake devastation and instability in the Middle East. And he warned of more ups and downs ahead.

“There are always going to be bumps on the road to recovery,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re going to pass through some rough terrain that even a Wrangler would have a hard time with.” (“No!” another loyal worker shouted.)

More than perhaps any of Mr. Obama’s presidential trips to date, this one had the feel of a campaign swing.

The president’s factory visit was sandwiched between his stops at Rudy’s Hot Dog, a landmark diner, and at Fred’s Pro Hardware Store near the Chrysler plant, which Mr. Obama visited to illustrate that the bailout had helped not just auto companies but also parts suppliers and the small businesses in the communities around the manufacturing plants.

Just like a candidate, he stood coatless and in rolled shirtsleeves at a plant gate during shift change, greeting the departing employees one by one. And more than usual, he went out of his way to greet people, lingering at the airport’s fence when he arrived and crossing the street from the hardware store to glad-hand the gathered locals, one of whom held aloft a hastily scribbled sign that said “Keep Working 4 the Working Class.”

Taking credit for the controversial decision to rescue the auto companies has become a staple of Mr. Obama’s stump speeches and is likely to remain so through his re-election campaign, especially given the importance of the industry to the swing states of Ohio and Michigan, as well as to Wisconsin and Indiana; Missouri, another major auto-manufacturing state, increasingly leans Republican and Mr. Obama narrowly lost it in 2008.

“In a weak economy it’s all the more important for Obama to have examples like the auto industry where he can point to his willingness to do what he thought was right for jobs even when it was politically controversial to do it,” said Geoffrey Garin, a Democratic pollster.

But David Winston, a Republican strategist and an adviser to the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a Republican who represents an Ohio district far south of Toledo, said taking credit for segments of the economy would not help if the overall economy remains weak. “It’s the macro-situation that matters in terms of how people are going to ultimately view his success or lack thereof with the economy,” Mr. Winston said. To the extent Mr. Obama boasts selectively, “that tends to reinforce the idea, ‘Maybe he’s disconnected.’ ”

Obama advisers, however, see the auto rescue as a valuable talking point beyond the affected states.

“The auto companies tell a story about the president’s economic leadership, the tough decision he made and how that’s reaped great results for people all across this country,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “If the overwhelming number of Republicans had had their way two years ago, G.M. and Chrysler would be gone and so would a million jobs in communities all across this country.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e858c6db19ea50d910e188a6fa44223d

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