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Obama talks small business in Cleveland -- but avoids talking about Libya, Scott Walker

The president and some Cabinet members visit Ohio for a forum on small business but avoid the topics of the Middle East and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights.

February 22, 2011|By James Oliphant | Washington Bureau

President Obama brought his vision for America's economic recovery to Cleveland on Tuesday, bringing along several members of his Cabinet for a forum on small business.

"Small businesses like yours help drive America's economic growth," Obama told an assembly of about 140 people at Cleveland State University. "They're the cornerstones of America's progress."

But what the president said Tuesday may have been eclipsed by what he did not talk about. He offered no remarks on the unrest and violence in Libya or the rest of the Middle East. And though he last week criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for his efforts to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights, he did not address a similar push by the Ohio Legislature. A large pro-union rally is planned at the state Capitol in Columbus later Tuesday.

Obama, in fact, was met by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican -- a target of the protests -- after landing in Cleveland.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis were among the members of the administration joining the president in Cleveland.

Obama's recently released budget calls for increased investment in technology, education and transportation--and has been widely criticized by the GOP as unnecessary government spending.

Cleveland, a city hammered by the decline of its industrial base, is attempting to reinvent itself through high-end manufacturing and an increasingly vibrant healthcare sector. The administration is making a renewed push to give aid to developing industries by helping small businesses secure capital funding.

Obama's efforts to get his economic message across to the public have been hampered by fast-moving events in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere. As a reflection of that, his remarks Tuesday were not carried live by Fox News and CNN, and were carried only in part by MSNBC.

The new White House press secretary, Jay Carney, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One earlier in the day, addressed the Libyan situation. "We offer our condolences to the families of the victims in Libya of this appalling violence," Carney said. He would not speculate on how the unrest would affect oil prices, which surged Tuesday.

And Carney restated the administration's overriding approach to the upheaval across the Middle East.

"The future of Libya needs to be decided by the Libyan people," Carney said. "As is the case throughout the region, our policy is ... that we call very strongly for an end to the use of violence against peaceful protesters. We call for respect for the universal rights that these -- peoples of this region, as peoples all around the world, have: the right to peaceful assembly, to freedom of expression. And we recognize their legitimate aspirations."

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