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President Obama wraps up Calif. visit

March 19, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
President Barack Obama left Southern California after his first visit as president that was packed with town hall meetings, serious talk and an appearance on a late-night talk show.President Barack Obama toured the Edison International Vehicle Electrics plant in Pomona on Thursday as he began his second day in Southern California. President Obama has said that he would like to see more electric vehicles on the road because they're cleaner and they don't use foreign oil. The tour was closed to the public, but Obama made comments afterward.

"We will put 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles on America's roads by 2015," Obama told a cheering crowd.

Obama announced that the Department of Energy is launching a $2 billion competitive grant program that will spark the manufacturing of the batteries and parts that run electric vehicles.

"Time and time again, we've tapped those great American resources, industriousness and ingenuity. That, after all, is what California is all about," Obama said.

"This is a state that has always drawn people who have their eyes set on the horizon, who have always dreamed of a future that others thought beyond reach. That's the spirit that you are reclaiming here at the Electric Vehicle test center, that's the spirit we need to reclaim all across the country," said Obama.

The president headed to the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex in downtown L.A. for a town hall meeting at 1 p.m.

"And today, millions of Americans, people who never thought they'd be able to lower their monthly payments, are now able to take advantage of these rates, which are the lowest that they have been in decades," he said to the L.A. crowd.

The president began his swing of Southern California on Wednesday afternoon when Air Force One touched down at Long Beach Airport. He hopped on a helicopter and headed to Costa Mesa, where he held a town hall meeting at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

Obama came into the town hall about 20 minutes earlier than scheduled. He immediately launched into the AIG scandal and took responsibility. He also promoted the stimulus bill, saying it would create 396,000 California jobs in the next two years.

Nearly all the questions from the audience dealt with the economy, including one man who lost his job last October. California's unemployment rate is now over 10 percent. The president said the stimulus plan should help the unemployment rate, and he also addressed concerns about education. A lot of teachers are facing the possibility of layoffs.

"Almost all of the money that's going to states under the Recovery Act for education is designed to retain teachers," Obama said to the crowd.

Meanwhile, protesters said Obama needs to focus on fixing the economy.

"He's going from town hall to town hall, and he's not doing his job in Washington," said Emanuel Patrascu, Orange County Republican Party. "That's why our country is failing financially."

One controversial issue that came up during the fairgrounds town hall had to do with immigration. The president was asked what he thinks of immigration reform. He said he supports it, and said he would like to see some way for the 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants in this country to have a way to become legal citizens.

The president finished his day with an appearance on "The Tonight Show" Thursday before heading back to Washington. It was the first appearance by a sitting president on the Tonight Show.

Obama joked with host Jay Leno about his bowling skills and playing basketball, but also got serious about AIG bonuses and the economic downturn. He also defended his Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, calling him a smart guy who has been handed an incredibly full plate.

Leno asked about the White House bowling alley, but when Obama compared his bowling skills to those of athletes with disabilities, white house aides were quick to issue a statement.

"He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world," said Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton.

Obama called the chairman of the Special Olympics Tim Shriver on his way back to Washington to apologize before the show aired late Thursday night.


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