President Barack Obama. (26860)

Continuing a two-day trip to the Los Angeles area, President Barack Obama fielded questions from homeowners and prospective buyers about the nation’s housing situation, saying in an Internet discussion he wants to simplify the mortgage process so people are more “empowered” during the purchase process.

“We can expect that we’re going to try to simply mortgage(s) … so that you don’t have a lot of fine print, you know exactly what you’re getting,” Obama said during the online discussion, titled “Zillow Presents: A Better Bargain for Responsible Homeowners: President Obama Answers Your Questions.”

The president said he wants to simplify the process so “somebody who’s involved in a transaction can operate with complete transparency, they can know what they might owe once they get a mortgage potentially approved. The more knowledge consumers have, the more empowered they’re going to be and the more likely they’re going to be (able) to live out the American dream that I think all of us want to see, not just for ourselves but for our kids and our grandkids.”

The online discussion, moderated by Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, was conducted just before Obama traveled to Van Nuys Airport for a helicopter trip to the Camp Pendleton Marine base in northern San Diego County, where he will visit troops and their families to thank them for their service to the nation.

The president was expected to helicopter back to Los Angeles International Airport after his remarks at Camp Pendleton, with Air Force One scheduled to depart the area at 2:20 p.m.

Obama arrived at LAX shortly before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday aboard Air Force One from Arizona, where he toured a construction company and delivered a speech at a Phoenix high school, calling for sweeping housing reforms, including the elimination of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Obama then traveled to NBC’s Burbank studios by helicopter and motorcade to appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” where he attempted to win Republican congressional support for increased spending on infrastructure.

“For the last three years I’ve said let’s work together,” Obama said.

“Let’s find a financing mechanism and let’s go ahead and fix our bridges, fix our roads, sewer systems, our ports.”

Obama cited the widening of the Panama Canal  to accommodate supertankers, set to be completed in 2015, as one reason to support increased spending on domestic infrastructure.

“If we don’t deepen our ports all along the Gulf (of Mexico) — places like Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga. or Jacksonville, Fla. — … those ships are going to go somewhere else. We’ll lose jobs. Businesses won’t locate here.”

Obama criticized a new law in Russia banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.”

“I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” Obama said.

“What’s happening in Russia is not unique. When I traveled to Africa, there were some countries that are doing a lot of good things for their people, who are working with them and helping them on development issues, but in some cases they persecute gays and lesbians and it makes for some uncomfortable press conferences sometimes.

“But one of the things I think is very important for me to speak out on is making sure that people are treated fairly and justly because that’s what we stand for.”

Obama said he did not think the law would impact next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“I think (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure that the Olympics work and I think that they understand that for most of the counties that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently. They are athletes. They are there to compete.

“If Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track, or swimming pool or on the balance beam and people’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Obama also fielded questions on topics including government surveillance and the safety of vacationing abroad. He acknowledged government surveillance programs have “raised a lot of questions for people,” but are a “critical component to counterterrorism.”

“We don’t have a domestic spying program,” Obama said. “What we do have is some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to some sort of terrorist threat. That information is useful.”

The State Department issued a travel alert Friday that is set to expire Aug. 31, reminding U.S. citizens of the potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The general rule is just show some common sense and some caution,” Obama said. “If people are paying attention, checking with the State Department or embassy, going on the website before you travel and find out what kind of precautions you should be taking, then I think it still makes sense for people to take vacations. They just have to make sure that they are doing so in a prudent way.”

The “Tonight Show” appearance was Obama’s fourth as president. He is the only sitting president to have appeared on the NBC late-night talk show, which premiered in 1954.

Following the “Tonight Show” appearance, Obama traveled by helicopter and motorcade to the Hilton Woodland Hills/Los Angeles, where he spent the night. According to White House press secretary Jay Carney, Obama had a private dinner with DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, described as a “longtime friend” of the president.

It was Obama’s 15th trip to the Los Angeles area since taking office and just the third that did not include a speech at a political fundraiser. He has made 10 trips solely for fundraising.

Watch President Obama speak live from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego.

Steven Herbert | City News Service