Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama presses Bush to help automakers

President-elect Barack Obama discussed with President Bush the need for urgent action to help the nation's struggling automakers during a meeting Monday.

"It was a discussion about the broad health of the industry" that was not just limited to just any one of the nation's three largest car makers, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

The 43rd president and the man who will be the 44th -- and first black -- commander in chief met alone in the Oval Office, with no handlers or staff. It was Obama's first time in the storied workspace, even though he had been to the White House previously for events.

Neither Bush nor Obama spoke to reporters.

Gibbs said the two men "talked extensively" about both the economic situation and foreign policy. Obama inherits from Bush an economy in deep turmoil and two wars that are far from won, among other problems.

Topics between them included the housing industry, foreclosures, the auto industry in crisis, as well as "the need to get the economy back on track," Gibbs said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked the administration this weekend to consider expanding the $700 billion bailout for financial firms to include car companies.

At a news conference Friday, Obama said he hoped the Bush administration would "do everything it can to accelerate the retooling assistance that Congress has already enacted."

The White House did not reject such an idea. Presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush would listen to lawmakers if, when they come back for a post-election session, "they decide to try to do something more on the auto industry."

She said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson would review the rescue plan again, but also suggested the administration needs Congress' help to determine which industries might qualify for help under the new law.

Regarding any new economic stimulus plan, the White House has repeatedly stressed that its main priority is passage of a free trade agreement with Colombia.

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