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As hiring downshifts, Obama points to autos

At a Chrysler plant in Ohio, the president focused on the auto industry's turnaround. The GOP saw a "Noticeable Omission."

TOLEDO, Ohio - Faced with a dismal new jobs report, President Obama said Friday that the U.S. economy faced challenges ahead and "bumps on the road to recovery."

But at an event to celebrate the resurgence of the auto industry, he did not mention the dour economic news that threatened to obscure his optimistic message.

Obama's visit to a Chrysler L.L.C. plant in politically important Ohio came just after the Labor Department reported that employers in May added the fewest jobs in eight months - a meager 54,000 - and the unemployment rate inched up to 9.1 percent from 9.0 percent in April.

Normally, Obama talks about the monthly jobs numbers the day they are released, but he never mentioned them directly Friday - an omission immediately noted by Republicans who see the economy as Obama's greatest weakness heading into the 2012 campaign.

The president focused instead on the turnaround in the auto industry and how the government has recouped much more money than anticipated from the capital it sank into Chrysler and General Motors Co. two years ago to save them from collapse.

Recently GM, Chrysler, and Ford have been reporting significant increases in sales, although the industry this week reported a falloff in May.

"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."

Republicans were more interested in what the president didn't say. The Republican National Committee wasted no time sending out a statement titled "Noticeable Omission" tweaking Obama for failing to address the latest jobs numbers.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that it would have been "a little technical to be citing specific economic statistics given the rather informal setting," but that the president had the jobs numbers in mind when he spoke of bumps in the road and the headwinds in the economy.

Obama hasn't shied in the past from talking about specific numbers in informal settings.

White House officials - seeking to place May's poor jobs report in the context of a continuing, if sluggish, recovery from the recession - said the overall employment trend was moving in the right direction compared with the level of job losses that were occurring a couple of years ago.

At the Chrysler plant, Obama patted himself on the back for the auto bailout, unpopular and controversial at the time but now proving a better investment for taxpayers than initially anticipated.

To let automakers fail, Obama said, "would have been a brutal and irreversible shock to the entire economy and to the future of millions of Americans. So we refused to let that happen."

The Bush and Obama administrations combined spent $80 billion to bail out General Motors and Chrysler and help guide them through bankruptcy. The Obama administration now says it will recoup more than 80 percent of that - more than expected - and Obama defended the bailouts as money well spent.

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, the Treasury Department announced a deal to sell its remaining stake in Chrysler to the Italian automaker Fiat. That means that of the $12.5 billion that Treasury used to bail out Chrysler, all but about $1.3 billion will be recouped, Treasury said.