TOLEDO, Ohio -- Faced with a dismal new jobs report, President Barack Obama said Friday that the economy faces challenges ahead and "bumps on the road to recovery." But at an event to celebrate the resurgence of the auto industry he didn't mention the dour economic news that threatened to obscure his optimistic message.
Obama's visit to a Chrysler plant in politically important Ohio came after the Bureau of Labor Statistics 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.
Normally Obama talks about the monthly jobs numbers the day they're released, but he never mentioned them directly Friday -- an omission 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 sunk into Chrysler and General Motors two years ago to save them from collapse.
"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 news release titled "Noticeable Omission" tweaking Obama for failing to address the jobs numbers.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said 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 say the overall employment trend is moving in the right direction compared to the level of job losses that were occurring a couple years ago, seeking to place this month's poor jobs report in the context of a continuing, if sluggish, recovery.
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.