President Barack Obama on Friday urged voters to judge Republican Donald Trump’s candidacy not as “entertainment” but by asking themselves whether his proposals and pronouncements are plausible and detailed.
With Trump’s opponents having bowed out of the race for the GOP nomination, Obama seemed to open what could be a six-month conversation with voters by reminding them that “this is not entertainment, this is not a reality show.”
Though Obama did not say it outright, the president clearly was asking voters to consider whether the bombastic billionaire and former “Apprentice” star is up for what he described as “a tough job.”
“I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job,” the president said during a rare appearance at a White House briefing to react to what some have called a weak April jobs report .
Obama also expressed confidence that the Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, would resolve that contest without continued discord.
Responding to a question about Trump, Obama urged reporters and voters to look for “details” within the candidates’ policy prescriptions, and determine whether their budget and other proposals “add up.”
If not, “that needs to be reported on and the American people need to know that,” the president said. And if journalists determine a candidate’s approach or policies would trigger a war or damage U.S. relations with key allies, “that needs to be reported on.”
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He even offered reporters some direct advice, almost pleading with them to cover the unpredictable real estate tycoon as they would any other presidential hopeful, rather than merely covering “the spectacle” surrounding his unprecedented campaign.
“That’s not something we can afford,” he said.
His comments came less than 24 hours after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said he was not ready to endorse Trump , and a couple of hours before South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said he would neither vote for Trump nor Clinton in November’s contest.
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“There is no doubt that there is a debate that’s taking place inside the Republican Party about who they are and what they represent,” Obama said. “Their standard bearer at the moment is Donald Trump.”
“Not just Republican officials, but more importantly, Republican voters are going to have to make a decision as to whether this is the guy who speaks for them and represents their values,” the president said.
He singled out female Republican voters , saying they must determine whether the GOP’s presumptive nominee, who has said harsh things about women for years, is the kind of “guy I feel comfortable with in representing me and what I care about.”
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Democratic Party officials are hoping many answer ‘no,’ and either sit out the general election or throw their support to Clinton in what could be a turnout election in key swing states.
As Trump moves toward the GOP convention on track to secure his party’s nomination, Sanders is vowing to remain in his sometimes-testy fight against Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
Obama, still the de facto leader of the party, played down the level of Democratic discontent.
He reminded reporters of his experience running for president — in which he and Clinton vied for delegates up until the end — and said candidates and, more often their staff, get restless and start throwing rhetorical elbows .
“Everybody gets chippy,” Obama said, adding that plenty of good news exists for his party. For instance, he contended Clinton and Sanders agree on “95 percent” of the issues.
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Obama’s remarks came after he urged Congress to pass a massive package to upgrade infrastructure across the country, arguing that it would provide a boost to an economy that is still growing slowly and facing headwinds from problem areas within the global economy.
He also announced steps his administration is taking unilaterally to crack down on corporate tax shenanigans.
The U.S. economy added 160,000 jobs in April, the lowest level in seven months; experts had expected up to 40,000 more.
As he has in previous statements, Obama claimed the economy would be humming along with more power if Republican lawmakers would enact more of his agenda.
For starters, he said, Congress could pass a sweeping funding package that would allow new construction projects to repair the country’s aging infrastructure.
That kind of legislation would amount to an economic stimulus package, he said, noting it would put a “whole bunch of guys in hard hats, and gals in hard hats.”
“Those jobs can’t be exported,” Obama said.
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As he did Wednesday during an address in Flint, Michigan, about that city’s once-toxic drinking water system, he previewed a campaign-trail debate he and other Democrats are itching to start.
“The problem we have is the Republican Congress has been resistant to taking on this problem in a serious way, largely, he argued, because the party now holds the stance that all government is “bad.”
“The contrast,” he said of such a potential campaign debate, “will be pretty clear.”
“You can’t build your own Metro system. You can’t build your own highway. You can’t build your own airport,” he said.
“Now is time” to pass an infrastructure package because interests rates are low and there are a large number of contractors and construction workers looking for work, he said.
“You can get things done,” the chief executive said, “on time and on schedule.”