WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama had an overall optimistic message for Northeast Ohioans Monday as NewsChannel5’s Leon Bibb sat down with him for an interview in Washington.
[ WEB EXTRA: Watch the entire interview in the video player to the left ]
The topics discussed included the auto industry, the economy, the future of NASA Glenn Research Center, Osama bin Laden death on the impact of American troop withdrawal and urban education. But before everything got officially started, the president – unsolicited – brought up the topic most Clevelanders have chosen to forget, LeBron James.
“Is Cleveland still rooting against Miami?” asked the president as Bibb was taking his seat (and before the cameras were rolling).
“Yeah, we're working on that,” replied Bibb, laughing and asking his thought on the series.
The president said he expects the Heat to take it.
President Obama told auto workers at the Chrysler plant in Toledo last week that “I place my bets on you.”
Bibb asked what this line meant for the industry and the workers.
“With regard to the auto industry, I feel very good about what’s happening,” said Obama.
The president touted the bailout, saying General Motors and Chrysler would have been shut down without help from the government. He cited the Lordstown GM plant and millions of jobs across the country as possible casualties, had the bailout not happened.
“We not only helped them out, but we also said you have to restructure. You have to rethink the way you do business,” said the president.
He said he believes the industry showing great signs of improvement, saying Chrysler paid back its debt six years ahead of schedule.
“We have the best workers in the world,” Obama said. “We can still compete when it comes to manufacturing.
He said the industry needs to work together and move in the same direction, adapting to the 21st century economy.
JOBS & ECONOMY
The jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that employers added in May the fewest jobs in eight months, and the unemployment rate went up to 9.1 percent.
Bibb asked the president what he thought happened to cause this dip.
“We don’t know yet what happened in terms of this particular blip,” said the president.
He cited the possibility of gas prices, destabilization and what’s happening in Europe as making people nervous, causing such fluctuations.
But the president defended his economic policy, saying the private sector has created more than two million jobs over the last 15 months – and the three prior months showed better than expected numbers.
He said overall, the economy is growing faster than anybody expected.
Republicans have said the economy is Obama’s greatest weakness going into the 2012 election.
When asked directly about the 9.1 percent unemployment rate, the president said he’s doing everything he can to get unemployed Americans jobs.
“We were on the verge of going into a great depression,” said Obama.
Bibb asked the president what his message to those without jobs.
“Every day I get up and ask myself what more can I do to give them a shot. What do I have in my power to make sure jobs are being created, businesses are succeeding, small businesses are succeeding and people are able to live out the American dream? What they should know is that they have a president who is on their side,” said the president.
Obama said he’s confident the country will continue to make progress.
NASA GLENN RESEARCH CENTER
Despite concerns that the future of the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland may be in jeopardy with the ending of the space shuttle program, the president said the center’s purpose fits with the next generation of America’s space program.
“Even though the space shuttle is phasing out, what’s that next big leap? That’s exactly part of our plan to make sure we’re researching new fuel, new mechanisms to allow for long-term space flight. There’s some additional technological leaps that we have to make. We’re using the same technologies we were using back in the 60s, in some cases,” Obama said.
He said the Glenn Research Center will be a critical part of the future of the space program.
Bibb asked the president if the death of Osama bin Laden would mean the acceleration of withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan.
“What I’ve said is that this summer is going to be a summer of transition,” said Obama.
He said it’s time for the Afghans to take responsibility for their own security, citing the training that American troops are providing to them.
“By killing bin Laden, by blunting the Taliban, we have now accomplished a lot of what we set out to accomplish 10 years ago,” said Obama.
The president said he will be making an announcement soon about the transition plan and the pace of the troop reduction.
President Obama said having excellent teachers is the key to improving education in America, especially in cities with struggling school districts.
“What we want to