Barack Obama arrived in Cleveland yesterday, burdened with the lowest-approval ratings yet for his presidency and lingering issues with his health care law. But he met supporters who still feel his administration can deliver on its promises. ideastream’s Brian Bull caught the president’s appearance at the ArcelorMittal steel plant and has this report:
Hard-scrabble, blue-friendly Cleveland still backs Obama.
Voters here readily gave him a second-term and hundreds gathered to see him as he visited the city for the first time since his re-election.
But actually the audience first applauded ArcelorMittal CEO Lakshmi Mittal, who made his FIRST visit to the Cleveland plant since his company purchased it in 2005.
"The president’s visit here today confirms the continuing importance of the manufacturing sector to the U.S. economy," said Mittal. "And as a major manufacturing company, we really appreciate and applaud this focus.”
While other sectors continue to struggle, ArcelorMittal has seen upticks and investments, stemming mostly from the automotive industry. Many here say Obama’s backing of the Big Three automakers a few years ago, the enactment of better fuel standards, and his push for increased exports have all helped brighten the steel maker’s fortunes.
The president himself summarized ArcellorMittal’s rebound from when it was all but shuttered five years ago.
“The economy was in a free fall, auto industry on the brink of collapse," Obama said to the crowd. "And that meant demand for steel had dried up. The blast furnaces went quiet. About 1200 steelworkers punched out for what might have been the last time.”
Obama said rescuing and retooling the auto industry – and betting on American workers – helped revive steel.
“And just a few months after this plant shut down, your plant manager got the call. `Fire those furnaces back up, get those workers back on the job.’ And over the last four years, you’ve made yourselves one of the most productive steel mills not just in America, but in the world. In the world.”
Production has not only improved, but ArcelorMittal is investing $80 million to upgrade a blast furnace and one of its galvanizing lines at the plant. It’s also hired on 150 workers there in the past year.
It’s these stories that Obama’s happy to highlight, as other issues loom like storm clouds over the White House.
For example, there’s that Affordable Care Act that’s relentlessly made headlines since the rollout of a faulty health exchange website in October.
Earlier Thursday, President Obama announced that people who lost their health care plans under his law could keep them for another year. It was a decision he’d been pushed to by politicians of all stripes.
“But I want everyone here to understand, that I am going to see this through," the president said as the crowd cheered. "I want millions of Americans to make sure that they’re not going broke when they get sick and they can they can go to a doctor when their kids get sick. And we are not apologizing for that! We are going to get this done!”
The audience applauded loudly.
After the President’s speech, Linda Echols was all smiles. She’s a retired nurse who used to work for the Veterans Administration, and is confident that the Affordable Care Act will succeed.
“The president gave us a lot of hope for things in the future. As in anything, his plan hasn’t come out like everybody thought it should, just all at once. But I feel pretty positive and pretty sure that it will," said Echols.
"I believe that it’ll work. I believe in it. I believe in the president.”
And Harriet Applegate of the North Shore AFL-CIO says she’s glad to see Obama back in Cleveland and highlighting the area’s potential.
“Manufacturing coming back here is a big plus. The Port Authority with the liner service coming back is also a huge plus. And imports and exports coming in through and in Cleveland is all a good thing," Applegate told ideastream. "So I think it’s appropriate that the president would pick Cleveland, Ohio.”
The visit couldn't have been anything short of a pick-me-up for the president, given the turmoil of the last few months.
Afterward, Mr. Obama left for Philadelphia where his appeal was put to the money test, at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.