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Obama hails auto bailout, trade deal in Michigan


President Obama on Friday traveled to a Michigan auto factory to illustrate the fruits of his controversial decision to bail out the auto industry, and to tout the benefits to come from the recently-passed free trade deal with South Korea.

"This is a city where a great American industry is coming back to life and the industries of tomorrow are taking root," Mr. Obama said at the General Motors plant in Orion Township, where the new Chevrolet Sonic is produced. "These cars are a testimony to the American spirit."

Mr. Obama was joined by South Korean President President Lee Myung-bak, in a rare joint appearance of heads of state outside of Washington.

As the economy continues to stall, Mr. Obama will have to work hard to convince Midwestern voters that his agenda is working to their benefit. The unemployment rate in Michigan in August stood at 11.2 percent, above the national average of 9.1 percent. Still, the picture has improved since the president decided to restructure Chrysler and GM.

The production of the Chevrolet Sonic -- the only domestically-produced subcompact car currently sold in the U.S. -- is one sign of GM's revival, the president argued today. The president's decision to restructure two of the "Big Three" auto companies saved over a million jobs, the administration says, and since the companies emerged from their restructurings, the American auto industry has created 128,000 jobs.

The president today argued that his decision to bail out GM is a reflection of his intent on putting workers first.

"I was determined to rebuild this economy... based on what this country's always done best. That's why one of the first decisions I made as president was to save the U.S. auto industry from collapse," Mr. Obama said. "We made a deal with the auto companies. If you're willing to retool, restructure, then we're going to invest in your future... We believe in American workers. Today, I can stand here and say the investment paid off."

After the audience applauded his decision, Mr. Obama noted, "There are a lot of politicians who said it wasn't worth the time and wasn't worth the money. There's a lot of politicians who still say that."

He challenged them to visit the plant and rethink their position. One of the top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney, maintains the auto bailout was a bad idea.

The president said the new free trade deal with South Korea would also benefit workers, supporting at least 70,000 American jobs. The deal passed with bipartisan support, but the president's critics say he waited too long to send the deal -- along with two other lingering trade deals -- to Congress.

"I wasn't going to sign just any trade deal," Mr. Obama said, referring to a companion deal to fund a program to help American workers who have lost their job as result of international trade. "President Lee and I walked away with a trade agreement that is a win-win for both countries."

Watch CBS News' Mark Knoller discuss the president's decision to visit the Orion Township GM plant to make the case for the U.S.-South Korea free trade deal:


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