Obama Returns To Elkhart, Ind., To Tout Economic Recovery

Jun 1, 2016
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Obama went back to Elkhart, Ind., today to tout some economic success. The first time Obama went there as president was just three weeks after taking office. It was the middle of the Great Recession. The city was hurting even worse than the rest of the country.

It's taken a long time, but Elkhart has bounced back, and the president chose this setting to make a case for Democratic policies in November.

In a moment, we're going to get a reaction from a resident of Elkhart who introduced Obama at that 2009 speech. First, we're joined in the studio by NPR Scott Horsley. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Was this like the opening shot at the president's fall campaign?

HORSLEY: It sure sounded like it, Ari. You know, the president has been reined in just a little bit because the Democrats are still trying to figure out who their presidential nominee is going to be. But he's kind of been chomping at the bit, and he was certainly in campaign mode this afternoon. The soundtrack at the event was his old campaign music. And even though Obama himself's not on the ballot, he is eager to take aim at the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

Here he is talking about Trump's tax plan which would cut tax rates for the wealthy, and, according to independent analysts, explode the deficit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: That is not going to make your lives better. That will help people like him.

HORSLEY: There were some people in the audience today saying four more years. And so Obama said, you know, both the Constitution and, more importantly, Michelle would nix that idea. But nevertheless, you can expect to hear the president doing a lot of this kind of campaigning on behalf of Democrats this summer and fall.

SHAPIRO: Sounds like a pretty partisan audience there, chanting four more years.

HORSLEY: You know, it was, although Elkhart and Indiana more generally are fairly Republican. Obama very narrowly carried the state in 2008, and then he lost it by 10 points in 2012. He was on the attack in Elkhart though, critiquing the kind of Republican policies that would roll back Obamacare, cut back on banking regulation and limit worker's bargaining power.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: Don't think that actually that this agenda is going to help you. It's not designed to help you. And the evidence is the last 30 years. Not to mention, common sense should tell you that their answers to our challenges are no answers at all.

HORSLEY: Now, the president's implicitly acknowledging there that Americans are on the lookout for answers. They're not satisfied with the pace of wage growth or economic growth, generally. But the president says Republicans have been holding up the wrong bogeyman, whether it's illegal immigrants or welfare recipients or private sector unions. And he criticized talk radio and some cable TV networks for spreading what he says is an economic story not supported by the facts.

SHAPIRO: Well, what economic story was he telling in Elkhart today?

HORSLEY: Well, as you say, when he went there seven-plus years ago, Elkhart was one of the hardest hit parts of the country. The jobless rate soared to nearly 20 percent. Nearly 1 out of 10 mortgages was severely delinquent. Manufacturing jobs had tanked.

Today unemployment in Elkhart is 4.3 percent, below the national average of 5 percent. Mortgage delinquencies have fallen below 4 percent and vehicle manufacturing jobs have more than doubled. So just as Elkhart was a symbol in the winter of 2009 of the deep economic freeze, today it's a sunny symbol of the president's - of the country's economic comeback.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: America's economy is not just better than it was eight years ago. It is the strongest, most durable economy in the world.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: That's point number one.

HORSLEY: The president argues that's because of policies he and the Democrats have been promoting. And he challenged voters to think about the kind of government policies they want to see going forward.

SHAPIRO: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.