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Obama Addresses Mixed Monthly Employment Report

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Hiring slowed last month. U.S. employers added just 160,000 jobs in April. That is well below the average of the last 12 months. President Obama talked about the slowdown during a White House news conference this afternoon. The president's own job will be coming open in about eight months, and he also weighed in on the spirited contest to replace him. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Today's report from the Labor Department shows a steady downshift in the pace of hiring over the last three months, even as wages continue to grow. President Obama says the U.S. economy still faces headwinds from slow growth elsewhere around the world.

And he argued, not for the first time, that Congress could help with stepped up spending on public works and a vote to raise the federal minimum wage.

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PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is something that would not only help those individuals who are getting a bigger paycheck, but it also means they're spending more, and that would be a boost to business.

HORSLEY: The president's been making this argument for years, but he's yet to persuade congressional Republicans. Obama also asked lawmakers for help today in cracking down on money laundering and tax evasion. The administration issued its own rule designed to open a window on secretive corporations.

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OBAMA: We are requiring banks and other financial institutions to know, verify and report who the real people are behind shell corporations that set up accounts at those institutions.

HORSLEY: Officials say the new rule was in the works long before the release of the Panama Papers, millions of leaked documents from a single law firm in Central America that shine a spotlight on secret financial dealings. For all the griping about clandestine bank accounts in offshore tax havens, some of the biggest loopholes in financial reporting are right here in the U.S.

Shruti Shah, who's vice president of the nonprofit group Transparency International USA, says when shell companies open accounts here, bankers need to understand who really owns, controls and profits from the money.

SHRUTI SHAH: One of the problems that was highlighted in the Panama Papers was that often officials named in executive positions or in managerial positions for anonymous companies are figureheads. They don't actually control the entity.

HORSLEY: The release of the new bank rule comes just ahead of an anti-corruption summit in London next week. While the president tried to frame his news conference around the economy, most of the questions concerned the presidential race.

Obama says despite Hillary Clinton's commanding lead in the Democratic primary, he sees no rush for Bernie Sanders to drop out.

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OBAMA: Let's let the process play itself out.

HORSLEY: Obama says Sanders has done an extraordinary job raising important issues, and he's confident no matter how bitter this year's battle has been, Democrats will be united in November.

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OBAMA: Despite the fact that during the course of primaries, everybody starts getting a little chippy - I've been through this, it's natural - sometimes even more with the staffs and supporters than with the candidates themselves. The good news is is that there's a pretty strong consensus within the Democratic Party on the vast majority of issues.

HORSLEY: Obama opted not to comment on the latest Twitter controversy sparked by de facto Republican nominee Donald Trump. Yesterday Trump celebrated Cinco de Mayo by tweeting a picture of himself with a large taco bowl under the caption, I love Hispanics.

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OBAMA: As a general rule, I don't pay attention to Mr. Trump's tweets.

HORSLEY: Obama's criticized the news media for its blanket, often uncritical coverage of Trump, a man the president wants dismissed as a carnival barker. Today, Obama said the U.S. cannot afford to treat its presidential contest as a mere spectacle or circus.

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OBAMA: I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times, and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show.

HORSLEY: Obama urged reporters to give close scrutiny to what all the candidates say, especially proposals that could start a war, upend alliances or break the financial system. The American people have good judgment, he said, as long as they get good information. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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