By Sam Youngman - 06/03/11 06:14 PM EDT
President Obama said Friday that while the economy is still struggling to recover, the U.S. auto industry is proof that his policies are working.
Friday morning's May unemployment report, however, indicates the recovery has stalled despite the silver, if fragile, lining represented by auto plants like the Chrysler plant Obama was visiting in Toledo, Ohio.
Obama focused his remarks on what the White House sees as a bright spot at a time of otherwise concerning economic indicators, hailing the turnaround of the Big Three auto-makers and defending his decision to spend billions to bail them out.
The president took a shot at Republicans, saying he "could have done what a lot of folks in Washington wanted to do" when GM and Chrysler were on the verge of collapse, "which is nothing."
Doing nothing, Obama said, would have led to "a brutal and irreversible shock to the whole economy and to millions of Americans."
"So we refused to let that happen," Obama said.
Republicans have continued to question the cost of the bailout — about $80 billion delivered under both the Bush and Obama administrations — and have noted that even with the repayments from GM and Chrysler, taxpayers still stand to lose about $14 billion.
The president pointed out in his speech that the loans given under his administration had been paid back in full.
But with Friday's jobs numbers showing that the economy added only 54,000 jobs last month and national unemployment climbing to 9.1 percent, the president was looking to spotlight the partial success story.
Acknowledging that "we still face some tough times," Obama did not mention the jobs numbers specifically. He compared the economy to a person who gets hit by a moving truck.
"If you got hit by a truck, it's going to take a while for you to mend," Obama said. "And that's what's happening to our economy — it's taking some time to mend."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest underscored that point, telling reporters on Air Force One that the White House sees the overall trajectory of the recovery — 15 straight months of job growth — as "a lot of cause for optimism."
When asked if Obama thinks there is a risk of a double-dip recession, Earnest said "not at all."
Earnest said the president is focused on the overall trends, and that the White House does not get "too excited" or "too disappointed" by the monthly numbers.
"And if you look even over the last four months … we’re averaging about 200,000 jobs a month of private-sector job creation," Earnest said. "So our trajectory is moving in the right direction, and we’re pleased about that."
Earnest rejected criticism from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and others who have said that Obama's economic policies have made the recession worse.
When asked about Romney's criticisms, Earnest said "even elementary math indicates that our economic picture is significantly better than it was when this president took office."