Obama Talks Economy, Puppies With Leno - NBC Southern California

Obama Talks Economy, Puppies With Leno

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    President Barack Obama talked about the economy, his first few months as Commander in Chief, and a promise he made to his daughters Thursday during his appearance on the "Tonight Show."

    Obama became the first sitting commander in chief to appear on a late-night talk show. The show was taped at about 4 p.m. Thursday and broadcast Thursday at 11:35 p.m.

    Much of the conversation involved the economy. Obama told host Jay Leno he was stunned when he learned about bonuses that bailed-out insurance giant AIG was paying its employees.

    "People just had this general attitude of entitlement," Obama said. "The immediate bonuses that went to AIG were a problem, but we have to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough. If we can get back to those values that built America, then I think we're going to be OK."

    Obama's helicopter landed at Dodger Stadium early Thursday afternoon before his motorcade left for Burbank. The motorcade arrived at about 3:30 p.m. A cheering crowd lined the street outside the studio.

    Leno asked Obama how things have changed since his last appearance, which was as a candidate, on the show.

    "I asked Secret Service (in Costa Mesa), 'Why don't we walk over there?'" Obama said. "They said, 'Sir, that's 750 yards.'

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    "They let me walk on the way back, but the doctor's behind me with the defibrillator. Michelle jokes about how we have the ambulance, then the caboose, then the dog sled, then the submarine."

    Leno turned the conversation to one of Obama's campaign promises. He told his daughters, Sasha and Malia, that they could have a dog at the White House.

    "This is Washington. That was a campaign promise," Obama said. "We're laying the groundwork."

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    He said plans will move forward when he returns from a NATO summit.

    Obama left Southern California Thursday night aboard Air Force One.

    The presidential guest came as a surprise to some of the show's audience members, who were expecting to see a Hollywood star just a few weeks ago.

    "We did luck out," said a man who received his ticket in the mail two weeks ago. "It was absolutely serendipitous. It was supposed to be Teri Hatcher earlier in the week. I was pretty pleased. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

    Burbank Turned Into Camp Obama

    Signs of the president's arrival were evident Thursday morning outside the Tonight Show studio at NBC in Burbank. The usually busy hallway was blocked by wooden partitions. A ramp leading to the large "elephant doors" from the parking area was enclosed.

    A water delivery worker was pushing two palettes of bottles through the hall. He said security was tighter than usual.

    "They just told me I had to be off the lot by 10 a.m.," he said. "It's water."

    By coincidence, a group Marine commanders was booked to attend the Tonight Show taping. They toured the NBCLA newsroom.

    Audiences for the Tonight Show are booked weeks in advance.

    Earlier Thursday, Obama toured a plant that develops electric car batteries before he addressed a Los Angeles town hall meeting.

    The president received his daily briefing Thursday morning before touring the Edison Electric Vehicle Technical Center in Pomona, where he delivered prepared remarks, according to the White House.

    He traveled by motorcade to the Miguel Contreras Learning Center in Los Angeles for a town hall meeting. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa  and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are at the event, where public attendance was determined by an online lottery. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis also spoke at the event.

    The Republican governor had kind words for the Democratic president's stimulus plan.

    "This is the greatest package," Schwarzenegger said. "I'm so happy that we're getting this help from the federal government and from President Obama."

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    "I was hoping the governor would speak a little longer," Obama said. "I was standing outside, soaking up some rays. Nothing like California weather."

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    About 30 students from Village Academy High School attended the event in Pomona and the town hall in downtown LA.

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    The students produced a video called "Is Anybody Listening?" The video was meant to draw attention to the impact of the flagging economy and foreclosures on Southern California.

    They met privately with Obama.

    Yvonne Bojorquez is a junior who Obama mentioned in his speech.

    "To be honest, I almost cried," Bojorquez, 16, told the Los Angeles Times. "It was pretty crazy. It's very exciting. Even right now I just want to scream at the top of my lungs."

    Obama at LA Town Hall LA: We Need "a Recovery That Endures"

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    Obama walked out to thunderous applause at a town hall meeting near downtown Los Angeles, where he told the crowd his administration is taking steps to resolve the housing crisis that is at the root of the economic crisis.

    The president's opening remarks mirrored the optimistic tone he struck at a similar forum Wednesday in Orange County.

    "I know how tough times are," he said. "In Los Angeles, in California but also all across the country. Here is what I want you to remember though -- We are going to meet these challenges. I promise you this -- there will be brighter days ahead."

    He said the state and nation are going through challenging times and noted that the state has lost a half-million jobs over the past year, driving the unemployment rate to double digits, and that the foreclosure rate has skyrocketed.

    He said an important step to get the economy back on track is to address the housing crisis and said California will receive $145 million from the federal government to help homeowners refinance their loans and to rehabilitate and resell foreclosed properties.

    "We need to bring about a recovery that endures," Obama said. 

    The president's opening remarks were frequently interrupted by cheers, applause and standing ovations.

    Schwarzenegger and Villaraigosa introduced the president to the crowd.

    "Behind the president's leadership, we now have a stimulus bill that will put people back to work," said the mayor, who has made five trips to Washington, D.C. since December to lobby for those funds. "Here in L.A., and across this great country, we're saying yes to a strategy that invests in workers, supports our middle class and puts the American dream within reach for every single family."

    Villaraigosa said Los Angeles is already helping itself by investing in public transportation, renewable energy and education.

    "The people of this town are ready to get back to work. Ready to lay a foundation for success today and prosperity tomorrow," Villaraigosa said.   

    Outside the learning center, several hundred pro-immigration activists lined Lucas Street at Third Avenue, holding signs that read "Obama Count Us Too!" and "We Are Not Criminals," but the president did not focus on immigration in his opening remarks.

    Ron Gochez, an organizer with Union Del Barrio, said the group wants the president to order immigration officials to stop arresting people who are in the country illegally and allow illegal immigrants to become citizens.

    "What we're here to do is pressure the president because he has very clearly stated, he promised the Latino community that once in power he would stop the ICE raids and that he would also grant some kind of legalization for our community -- immigration reform," Gochez said.

    Pomona Visit: "The Problem Isn't a Lack of Technology"

    Obama announced in Pomona that his administration will help put a million plug-in hybrids on the road by 2015 and offer $7,500 tax credits for people who buy them.

    Next-generation car batteries are being made at the plant. Obama said the incentives are part of an overall plan to upgrade the nation's energy infrastructure.

    He said the country has not made independence from foreign oil a priority, noting that the 1908 Model T Ford got better mileage than a typical sport utility vehicle in 2008.

    "So the problem isn't a lack of technology," he said. "You're producing the technology right here. The problem is that, for decades, we have avoided doing what must be done as a nation to turn challenge into opportunity. As a consequence, we import more oil today than we did on 9/11."

    The president also announced "a $400 million down payment on the infrastructure needed to get hybrids on road," and $1 billion investment in upgrading the nation's power grid.

    "And even as our economy has been transformed by new forms of technology, our electric grid looks largely the same as it did half a century ago," Obama said.

    He said change will not be easy and progress may seem slow.

    "We'll do this because we know that the nation that leads on energy will be the nation that leads the world in the 21st century," Obama said.

    He noted that Germany and Spain are way ahead of the United States in terms of solar energy.     

    The President's Town Hall in Costa Mesa

    Obama addressed the first of his two Southland town hall meetings Wednesday, when he spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of some 1,300 people at the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

    The president appeared anxious to shift public focus away from the $165 million in bonuses paid to executives at the faltering insurance giant AIG -- the beneficiary of $180 billion in public money -- at a time when Democrats, including the administration, are being blamed for allowing it to happen.

    He expressed outrage over the bonuses but took personal responsibility for them.

    "Washington is all in a tizzy and everybody is pointing fingers at each other and saying it's their fault, the Democrats' fault, the Republicans' fault," he said at the Costa Mesa town hall meeting. "Listen, I'll take responsibility. I'm the President."

    He added: "So for everybody in Washington who's busy scrambling, trying to figure out how to blame somebody else, just go ahead and talk to me, because it's my job to make sure that we fix these messes, even if I don't make them."

    He said the administration has "got a lot on our plate, but it is appropriate when you are in charge to make sure that stuff doesn't happen like this."

    In Costa Mesa, Obama offered words of hope to a state facing high unemployment, teacher layoffs and other fiscal woes.

    "One out of every 10 Californians is out of work right now," he noted. "You've got one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. Budget cuts are threatening the jobs of thousands of teachers across the state.

    "But here is what I want you to know -- we are not only going to make it through this crisis, we are going to come out on the other side a stronger and more prosperous nation."

    The president, who removed his jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt, answered questions for nearly an hour in stifling heat. Security was high at the event, which drew only about a half-dozen protesters.

    Obama said action needs to be taken during recovery efforts to ensure that employee wages keep pace with the cost of living, something that did not happen over the last decade.

    "All I'm trying to do is restore some balance to our economy so that middle class families who are working hard --  they're not on welfare, they're going to their jobs every day, they're doing the right things by their kids -- they should be able to save, buy a home, go on a vacation once in a while,"
    Obama said.

    "They should be able to save for retirement, send their kids to college. That's not too much to ask for, that's the American dream."

    The president also addressed the sensitive issue of immigration.

    He said it is "intolerable" for a half-million illegal immigrants to cross the border each year, and that there needs to be a crackdown on employers who employ illegal aliens. But he said there needs to be a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, and that the entire issue must be tackled at the same time or it won't work.  

    Obama also brushed off criticism that he is attempting to solve too many problems at one time.

    "When you're president, you've got to walk and chew gum at the same time," he said.