August 14, 2022

The Caucus: Obama Hails Auto Industry’s Turnaround in Visit to Chrysler Plant

President Obama received an enthusiastic reception from workers at a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio., on Friday, but he did not mention the day's disappointing jobs report.Doug Mills/The New York TimesPresident Obama received an enthusiastic reception from workers at a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio., on Friday, but he did not mention the day’s disappointing jobs report.

TOLEDO, Ohio – President Obama hailed the auto industry’s comeback at a Chrysler plant here, two years after the company’s bailout, but warned several hundred appreciative workers that “headwinds” continued to buffet the economy – the closest he came to referring to the day’s disappointing employment report.

Mr. Obama’s visit to a century-old auto-manufacturing site that now makes the Jeep Wrangler was intended to draw attention to the good news that the auto industry’s once-threatened Big 3 — Chrysler and General Motors, which were both bailed out, and Ford, which recovered on its own – all were adding workers, making profits, increasing market share and, in the case of Chrysler and G.M., paying back their taxpayer loans. He did not directly address the day’s news that the government’s monthly jobs report showed an uptick in the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent – unlike last month on the Friday that improved jobs numbers were released, when he visited a Maryland plant and noted the improved numbers.

“There are always going to be bumps on the road to recovery,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re going to pass through some tough terrain that even a Wrangler would have a hard time on.” At that the audience sounded a good-natured yell of “No!” in defense of their product.

The job news hardly seemed to dampen the enthusiastic reception Mr. Obama received; instead he was repeatedly thanked by people who said they owed their jobs to him and his decision in early 2009 to provide $60 billion in government assistance to see Chrysler and G.M. through bankruptcy. Mr. Obama was introduced by Chrysler worker who said she and her husband would not have jobs or health coverage but for the bailout.

Taking credit for the controversial decision has become a staple of Mr. Obama’s recent stump speeches and is likely to remain so through his re-election campaign, especially given that the auto states of Ohio and next-door Michigan are election swing states. But in his short speech, Mr. Obama had to balance the congratulatory message with acknowledgment of ongoing weakness in the economy.

“I don’t want to pretend like everything’s solved,” he said. “There’s nobody here who doesn’t know somebody who’s looking for work and hasn’t found something yet,” Mr. Obama added, to which a man yelled “Right!”

“This economy took a big hit,” he said, and continued to face “headwinds” stalling progress. The latest, he said, are high gas prices, the economic disruptions from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami and instability in the Middle East.

But mostly he cited the evidence of the revival of the auto industry and manufacturing generally, and added near the end, ”I want you to remember all those voices who were saying ‘No. No we can’t.’” The workers gave him an effusive send-off and a standing ovation.

The day had the trappings of a campaign, with the factory visit sandwiched between stops at Rudy’s Hot Dog to greet lunch diners and at a Fred’s Pro Hardware store near the Chrysler plant, which Mr. Obama visited to draw attention to the fact that not only auto companies were helped by the bailout but also the suppliers and small businesses in the communities around them. And he stood at the gate at a shift change, greeting the departing workers.

A number thanked him for the government aid. “Nice to meet you. Thanks for bailing out Chrysler,” one woman said. Mr. Obama replied, “Thanks for paying it back.”

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