WASHINGTON --President Obama sought Friday to draw attention to the auto industry's rebound with a visit to a Chrysler plant in politically important Ohio, but he made no mention of a dismal new jobs report that threatened to cloud his upbeat message.
Obama only alluded to the report, saying that the economy faces challenges ahead and "bumps on the road to recovery."
Normally, Obama talks about the monthly jobs numbers the day they're released, but he never mentioned them directly Friday. He focused instead on the turnaround in the auto industry and how the government has recouped much more money than anticipated from the capital it sunk into Chrysler and General Motors two years ago to save them from collapse.
"This industry is back on its feet, repaying its debts, gaining ground," Obama told Chrysler workers. "Because of you we can once again say the best cars in the world are built right here in the U.S. of A."
Obama's stop in Toledo was the latest in a string of domestic trips to promote his economic agenda and defend the much maligned government bailouts to Chrysler and General Motors.
The trip came on the same day that the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced a significant drop in hiring for May -- only 54,000 new jobs -- and an uptick in unemployment to 9.1 percent.
But Obama kept the focus on the auto industry. Recently GM, Chrysler and Ford have been reporting significant increases in sales, although the industry this week reported a falloff in May.
The Bush and Obama administrations spent $80 billion to bail out General Motors and Chrysler and help guide them through bankruptcy. The Obama administration says it will recoup more than 80 percent of that and Obama intends to defend the bailouts as money well spent.
A report by the president's National Economic Council this week said the taxpayers' loss from the bailout will be about $14 billion. The Treasury Department initially had expected much greater losses.
Chrysler last week announced it would be paying off its remaining loans to the U.S. and Canadian governments ahead of schedule. And late Thursday, Treasury announced a deal to sell its remaining stake in Chrysler for $560 million to Italian automaker Fiat. That still means that of the $12.5 billion that the Treasury Department used to bail out Chrysler, about $1.3 billion will not be recouped, Treasury said.
GM received $49.5 billion in the U.S. bailout, and the federal government has recovered about half of that by selling a portion of its ownership stake in the company. It intends to sell its remaining 26.5 percent share of the company at a later time.
GM, Chrysler and Ford had been reporting significant increases in sales, but the industry this week reported a falloff in May.
The industry resurgence is one of the few positive notes in an economy that had been growing moderately but has now hit a listless patch. Unemployment had been dropping from a high of 10.1 percent in October of 2009. But it now has experienced back-to-back increases since it hit 8.9 percent in March.
The auto industry is also a major employer in presidential battleground states like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri, all of them important for Obama's re-election prospects in 2012. The industry recovery gives Obama the opportunity to distinguish himself from Republicans who had criticized the government's intervention.
Among them was Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who had called for Chrysler and GM to go through bankruptcy without government assistance. Romney on Friday defended his position. "The right process for an enterprise in trouble is not to be given money by the taxpayers in a bailout," he told CBS's "The Early Show."