President Barack Obama waves to the crowd at Concord Community High School as he leaves after speaking on June 1, 2016 in Elkhart, Indiana. Obama returned to the school, which he visited more than seven years ago, to highlight economic progress made during his administration. Scott Olson—Getty Images
Scott Olson—Getty Images
By Maya Rhodan
June 2, 2016

President Obama declared that America is already “pretty great” when asked about presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign slogan during a town-hall meeting hosted by PBS Newshour.

“I think America’s pretty great,” Obama said in response to a question posed by host Gwen Ifill, saying the American economy and its diversity are what contribute to its strength. The town-hall-style event aired on PBS on Wednesday, following the President’s remarks at an Indiana high school. Some of the President’s remarks were shared by the White House press pool, ahead of PBS’s airing of the town hall. “We’ve got some challenges. And we’ve just come through a very rough stretch as a consequence of the financial crisis. But overall not only are we recovered from the crisis that we had, but we are well positioned to do extraordinarily well going forward as long as we make some good decisions.”

The President spoke at a town hall in Elkhart, Ind., shortly after a fiery speech about the American economy in which he vehemently rebuffed many of the Republican presidential candidate’s policy proposals. The President returned to Elkhart to tout the progress the community has seen over the past seven years. Many economic indicators, including unemployment, the state of the housing market and high school graduation rates, signal that the community has largely rebounded.

The community, however, leans Republican and turned out significantly for Republican candidates in the state’s recent primary. But at the town-hall event, the President found himself both discussing the policies of Trump and defending some of his own. In one exchange, the President questioned Trump’s promise to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.

“He just says, Well, I’m going to negotiate a better deal,” Obama said Wednesday. “Well, what, how exactly are you going to negotiate that? What magic wand do you have? And usually the answer is, he doesn’t have an answer.”

The President blamed the media for stoking the flames amid the 2016 campaign cycle, where divisive rhetoric has defined the race. When asked why he opts against calling Donald Trump’s name in speeches and in press conversations — the President alluded to Trump but didn’t mention him by name in his Wednesday speech in Elkhart — Obama said the nominee does a good job of advertising on his own.

When pressed about why he’s O.K. invoking the names of Democratic candidates, Obama said, “they’re not as good at marketing.”

When taking questions from the audience, the President was pressed about the directives he issued on the rights of transgender students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity in public schools across the U.S. Many states saw the move as the President overstepping his authority and infringing on states’ rights; 11 states have sued the federal government over the guidance. An audience member asked Obama why he sought to make transgender bathroom rights an issue. The President denied that he made it an issue, saying his Department of Education was only responding to requests sent by school districts across the country.

“What happened and what continues to happen is, you have transgender kids in schools, and they get bullied,” he said. “Schools are asking us, the Department of Education for guidance … My answer is that we should deal with this issue the same way we’d want it dealt with if it was our child.”

 

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