The President's Week Ends On A Productive Note

President Obama says if America wants a strong, growing economy, it needs robust, growing factories. In Pittsburgh on Friday, Obama launched a new partnership with businesses and universities. It's designed to give a boost to the manufacturing sector in hopes that factories will then offer more, good-paying jobs. The announcement capped a week in which Obama also began winding down the war in Afghanistan and tip-toed around the fight over same-sex marriage. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Obama says if America's going to have a robust, growing economy, it needs robust, growing factories. And in Pittsburgh yesterday, Mr. Obama launched a new partnership with businesses and universities.

It's designed to give a boost to the manufacturing sector in hopes that factories will then offer more good-paying jobs. The announcement capped a week in which the president also began winding down the war in Afghanistan, and tiptoed close the debate over same-sex marriage.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Mr. Obama went to Pittsburgh to stress the importance of making U.S. factories more competitive. But churning out more products at lower costs wasn't the only thing on the president's mind as he toured the National Robotics Engineering Center.

President BARACK OBAMA: One of my responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief, is to keep an eye on robots.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: And I'm pleased to report that the robots you manufacture here seem peaceful.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. BARACK OBAMA: At least for now.

HORSLEY: Industrial robots are one way for American factories to become more productive. Drew Greenblatt(ph) runs a factory in Baltimore that makes metal baskets used in industry.

Far from displacing workers, Greenblatt says, the robots in his factory have made those workers more valuable, so he's been able to hire more of them.

Mr. DREW GREENBLATT (President, Marlin Steel Wire Products, Baltimore, Maryland): You can't compete with your employees having equipment equal to the Chinese or the Mexicans, you have to have equipment that's far superior. And the way to make our employees like Superman, and give them super powers, is to allow them robot technology so that they can much more productive, much more efficient, much higher quality.

HORSLEY: Robots, advanced materials and energy efficient processes will all be on the menu for Mr. Obama's advanced manufacturing partnership.

Before traveling to Pittsburgh, Mr. Obama stopped in New York City for a series of political fundraisers. One was focused on the city's gay and lesbian community.

Mr. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS (Actor): President Obama will be coming out soon.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. HARRIS: Out on stage. Calm down, people.

HORSLEY: Actor, Neil Patrick Harris, was master of ceremonies, and he praised Mr. Obama for helping to end the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, and for promoting other gay-friendly initiatives.

The president disappointed some in the audience when he failed to endorse same-sex marriage, but he urged marriage supporters to keep the pressure on, including the pressure on him.

Pres. OBAMA: Look, that's the power of our democratic system. It's not always pretty. There are setbacks, there are frustrations. But in grappling with tough and at times emotional issues in legislatures and in courts and at the ballot box - and yes, around the dinner table, and in the office hallways, and sometimes even in the oval office - slowly but surely we find the way forward.

HORSLEY: Slow and unsure describes the effort in Washington to close the federal budget deficit. After their golf game a week ago, the president and House Speaker John Boehner, met privately at the White House Wednesday night.

But House Republican Leader Eric Cantor withdrew from budget negotiations the following day, and Republicans are still reluctant to consider tax increases as part of any deficit reduction plan.

Mr. Obama says trying to close the budget gap with spending cuts alone would eliminate important investments.

Pres. OBAMA: I'm not going to sacrifice clean energy at a time when our dependence on foreign oil has caused Americans so much pain at the pump. That doesn't make any sense.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: In other words, I will not sacrifice America's future.

HORSLEY: The White House says it advocates a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Mr. Obama also tried to strike a balance in Afghanistan, ordering a faster troop withdrawal this week than some in the military wanted, though not fast enough to satisfy some congressional critics.

The President plans to pull 10,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan this year, and another 23,000 by next summer.

President BARACK OBAMA: This is the beginning, but not the end of our effort to wind down this war.

HORSLEY: After a painful decade, the president said, the tide of war is receding. That tide's left different impressions on different people, both Democrats and Republicans. As usual, Mr. Obama tried to navigate between the waves. Instead of isolationism or military overreach, he said, America must chart a more centered course.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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