OBAMA ADDRESSES JOB NUMBERS, TALKS UP CLEAN ENERGY…. The December job numbers that were released this morning were obviously disappointing, falling short of expectations. President Obama, who was scheduled to address the employment report before the numbers were even available, responded to the report at a White House event this afternoon.

“The jobs numbers that were released by the Labor Department this morning are a reminder that the road to recovery is never straight, and that we have to continue to work every single day to get our economy moving again,” the president said. He added, “Job losses for the last quarter of 2009 were one-tenth of what we were experiencing in the first quarter. In fact, in November we saw the first gain in jobs in nearly two years. Last month, however, we slipped back, losing more jobs than we gained, though the overall trend of job loss is still pointing in the right direction. What this underscores, though, is that we have to continue to explore every avenue to accelerate the return to hiring, which brings me to my announcement today.”

That announcement was the use of stimulus funds on a clean energy manufacturing initiative, awarding $2.3 billion in tax credits for American manufacturers of clean energy technologies — “companies that build wind turbines, and produce solar panels, and assemble cutting edge batteries.” The credit is expected to create 17,000 jobs fairly quickly, all of which pay pretty well, boost the manufacturing sector, and contribute to the effort to combat climate change.

Also note, interest in the initiative was so strong, far more businesses applied for the credit than the budget allows. It’s why this will hopefully be part of a new jobs bill pending on the Hill. (Obama wants another $5 billion for the effort.)

But of particular interest was the president’s comments about international competition. “Harnessing new forms of energy will be one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. And unfortunately, right now the United States, the nation that pioneered the use of clean energy, is being outpaced by nations around the world,” Obama said. “It’s China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We spearheaded the development of solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. And almost all of the batteries that we use to power our hybrid vehicles are still manufactured by Japanese companies or in Asia — though, because of one of the steps like the one we’re taking today, we’re beginning to produce more of these batteries here at home.

“Now, I welcome and am pleased to see a real competition emerging around the world to develop these kinds of clean energy technologies. Competition is what fuels innovation. But I don’t want America to lose that competition. I don’t want the industries that yield the jobs of tomorrow to be built overseas. I don’t want the technology that will transform the way we use energy to be invented abroad. I want the United States of America to be what it has always been — and that is a leader — the leader when it comes to a clean energy future.”

It’s probably just me, but I can’t help but wonder what Republicans, who oppose the credits and reject climate science, think when they hear this. In this growing new field, are they prepared to just watch other countries lead?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.