From NBC's Athena Jones
ELKHART, Ind. -- President Obama was back on the road Monday, campaigning for swift passage of a massive recovery plan he argued would create jobs in hard hit places in the American heartland.
The setting for Obama's first town hall event as president is a city that has seen its unemployment rate triple to 15.3% in the last year. The president made two trips here, a place known as the RV capital of the world, during the campaign.
"Make yourselves comfortable. We're gonna be here a while," he told the cheering crowd gathered in a high school gymnasium. He went on to joke that the folks in the room might have noticed a little debate going on in Washington.
Since winning the election in November, Obama has kept the focus on fixing the economy and he faces his first test with the stimulus bill. This week's road show -- he's set to travel to Ft. Myers, Fla., tomorrow -- comes after his administration was criticized for allowing the opposition to shape the debate on the package and for not doing enough to sell it to the American people.
As he aimed to do that today, Obama made a point of telling the crowd the current crisis was one his administration had inherited. He prompted resounding applause when he said he had promised people here and across the country that he would do everything he could to help their communities recover and that he intended to keep his promise.
Obama has said his recovery plan will save or create more than three million jobs over two years, with some 79,300 of those jobs coming to Indiana, according to his team's estimates.
The jam-packed room erupted with thunderous applause when the president arrived. It was reminiscent of the kind of events Obama held during the long campaign. The only difference was there were no "Obama for president" signs.
The questions, which Obama made a point of saying were not pre-screened, focused on tax cuts, green jobs and renewable energy but there was some criticism of him for nominating officials with tax issues.
The president told the audience the stimulus bill -- which is likely to pass the Senate tomorrow and then must be reconciled with the House's version -- was not perfect and not everything in it would work exactly as he hoped, but that it was the right size and had the right focus -- creating jobs.
"We've had a good debate," he said. "Now it's time to act."
Aides David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, both of whom were fixtures of the campaign plane, accompanied the president to this swing state, which he won narrowly in November. The pair spoke with the press aboard Air Force One on the flight from Washington, arguing that the latest Gallup poll showed there was strong support for the stimulus package.
"One thing we learned over two years, there is a whole different conversation" being had outside of Washington, Axelrod said aboard Air Force One. He said the American public wasn't "sweating the details" of the bill and just wanted Congress to take action.
Also on the plane with Obama were Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Sen. Evan Bayh, Reps. Joe Donnelly, Baron Hill, Brad Ellsworth, Andre Carson, Fred Upton (the lone current Republican lawmaker on board) and former Reps. Tim Roemer and Lee Hamilton.
After the event, Upton said the Senate bill was a "vast improvement" over the House bill, because the Senate had taken the time to go through it carefully. But the congressman, who hails from the hard-hit state of Michigan, said he could not commit to supporting the legislation until he saw the final version worked out with the House.