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President Obama, speaking at L.A. fundraiser, points to positive changes

The visit follows a stop at Master Lock in Milwaukee, where he promotes the rebound of American manufacturing.

February 16, 2012|By Kathleen Hennessey and Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times
  • Supporters greet President Obama as he arrives at LAX for a short visit in Los Angeles.
Supporters greet President Obama as he arrives at LAX for a short visit in… (Kirk McKoy, Los Angeles…)

While acknowledging that "change is hard," President Obama touted the nation's economic progress on his watch during a celebrity-studded fundraising stopover Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

Addressing a crowd of about 1,000 at an outdoor reception, Obama needled Angelenos about the weather — "You're all cold. This is balmy, people" — then talked about the change he promised in the 2008 campaign, and the depth of the nation's economic troubles when he took office.

"We did not fully comprehend at that point how deep this crisis would be," he said, then mentioned the increase in jobs in recent months. "Don't underestimate the changes we made."

He said the U.S. auto industry was saved, and asserted that "2.6 million young people have health coverage who wouldn't otherwise have it" had it not been for the healthcare law that he championed.

Obama was expected to raise a total of more than $3 million during two events at the expansive Holmby Hills estate of "The Bold and the Beautiful" producer Bradley Bell and his wife, Colleen. The outdoor event, with tickets priced at $250 and $500, featured a performance by the Foo Fighters and appearances by comedian Jack Black and actress Rashida Jones.

Obama spoke later to a more intimate gathering inside the Bells' Spanish-style home, which about 80 supporters each paid $35,800 to attend. Among those present were George Clooney, Jim Belushi and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who on Wednesday was named chairman of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Obama offered a version of his standard campaign speech, touting the end of the Iraq war, job creation and the end of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, but acknowledged some supporters' frustration with work left undone. "I understand that; I feel the same way sometimes," he said, citing the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the continued detention of suspected "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The president's foray into Los Angeles came amid tension between him and some of his Hollywood supporters over anti-piracy legislation. The entertainment industry strongly backed the bills, but they were killed under pressure from Google and other Silicon Valley interests on Internet free-speech grounds. The White House angered some in Hollywood by publicly criticizing key aspects of the bills.

Previous visits by Obama have caused severe traffic jams across Los Angeles, prompting outrage from frustrated motorists. The Los Angeles Police Department urged drivers to avoid major Westside streets Wednesday night and Thursday morning, when Obama is scheduled to travel to a fundraiser at the Corona Del Mar home of real estate developer Jeff Stack and his wife, Nancy. He is then scheduled to travel to San Francisco and Seattle.

Earlier Wednesday, the president visited the Master Lock factory in Milwaukee, portraying the world's largest padlock manufacturer as an optimistic tale about American manufacturing on the rebound.

Over the last two years, Master Lock has moved 100 jobs from China back to the Milwaukee plant, a mini-surge that Obama compared to the recovery of America's troubled auto industry since an emergency government bailout in 2008 and 2009.

"What's happening in Detroit can happen in other industries," Obama told a crowd gathered on the factory floor. "Today you're selling products directly to customers in China stamped with those words, 'Made in America.' "

The president appealed to manufacturers to reverse outsourcing and find ways to create jobs back home. He makes his pitch as China's expected future president, Xi Jinping, makes his own U.S. tour and faces questions about China's role as America's chief rival in the global economy.

U.S. industry doesn't lack patriotism, Obama's Republican critics argue. Business executives will add jobs when it's in their economic interest to do so, said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

"The best thing the president can do to prevent outsourcing is pull back on the destructive policies — like his healthcare law and regulations — and threat of tax hikes that are making it harder for American businesses to hire workers here at home," Buck said.

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Times staff writer Robert J. Lopez in Los Angeles and Christi Parsons in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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