Obama Touts Auto Industry On Bus Tour

President Obama kicked off a two-day bus tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania on Thursday, talking about auto jobs and trade with China. Robert Siegel talks to Scott Horsley.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Demand is up in the car industry. That's great news for U.S. automakers. They're on track to have their best year since 2008 and it's a success that President Obama is seizing on as he campaigns across northern Ohio today. The president began a two-day bus tour that will also take him into western Pennsylvania.

The first stop, this morning, was in the Toledo suburb of Maumee, Ohio, where Mr. Obama cited a nearby Jeep Wrangler plant. The Wrangler just set an all-time sales record.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: That Chrysler plant up the road bringing on another 1,100 employees to make the cars that the world wants to buy.

SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president and joins us now. And Scott, Mr. Obama was not subtle about drawing the contrast between his rescue of the auto industry and the position taken by his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: No, he wasn't, Robert. And obviously, the Obama campaign sees this as a source of strength, that he went out on a limb for the auto industry while Mitt Romney opposed the government's rescue. And they feel like now the results of that policy distinction are in - 230,000 new jobs in the auto industry since General Motors and Chrysler came out of bankruptcy.

This week, both those automakers reported double-digits sales gains in June. I spoke with a couple of people in the audience today who owe their jobs or their retirement to the automakers and they feel like they owe the president a lot for that. Mr. Obama hopes to translate that into votes in this swing state and at the same time, spin that success into a larger story about building a sustainable economy in the U.S.

OBAMA: What's happening in Toledo can happen in cities like Cleveland, can happen in Pittsburgh, it can happen in other industries. And that's why I'm running for a second term as president because I'm going to make sure that it does. I want it happening all across this country.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SIEGEL: Now, earlier, Scott, we heard the president talking about building cars the world wants to buy. And I gather the administration today took some action intended to make it easier to sell cars elsewhere in the world, meaning in China. What happened today?

HORSLEY: That's right. The administration's filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization challenging import tariffs that China slapped on U.S. automobiles late last year. Ironically, the government's rescue was the trigger for those tariffs. China called the rescue an illegal subsidy. The United States says it's the tariffs that are illegal. And in taking this action, the Obama team is really trying to show that they're willing to get tough with China on trade issues, something they've taken heat about from the Romney campaign.

The timing of today's action is a little suspicious. After all, these tariffs have been in place now for more than six months. But the White House insists the complaint has been in the works for a long time and they simply filed when they were ready.

SIEGEL: Now, Mitt Romney is not actively campaigning much this week. He's vacationing with his family in New Hampshire. Are Republicans making their presence known in Ohio with the governor absent?

HORSLEY: Yes, they are. A couple of Republican surrogates, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and the former governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty are following the president around the state. In some cases, they're getting out in front of him. In Maumee this morning, they held a news conference to talk about the growth of the federal debt on Mr. Obama's watch. They'll be in the suburbs of Cleveland tonight and in Pittsburgh tomorrow.

So even though Romney himself is not on the trail very much this week, the GOP is not giving Mr. Obama or his campaign a free pass.

SIEGEL: Yesterday, Mitt Romney did a round of TV interviews in which he criticized the president's health care mandate as a tax. Did the president respond to that today?

HORSLEY: Not directly. This, of course, is a challenging issue for Romney since he, of course, instituted a similar mandate in Massachusetts. In fact, he's done a very good job of explaining why the mandate is critical to the success of that kind of health care reform. But Mr. Obama didn't take that on directly today. What he did say is that the health care law he passed is here to stay, taking on a newly defiant tone in the wake of last week's Supreme Court ruling.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley, who is traveling with President Obama.

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