Baltimore (CNN) – After a week where the Obama administration appeared knocked off course by a number of controversies, President Barack Obama sought to get back on track Friday by focusing on his jobs agenda.
"I know it can seem frustrating sometimes when it seems like Washington's priorities aren't the same as your priorities…Others may get distracted by chasing every fleeting issue that passes by, but the middle class will always be my number one focus. Period," he said during a campaign-style stop at a dredge manufacturing company in Baltimore, the second leg of what the White House has dubbed his "Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour."
While he didn't address the trio of controversies that have hit his administration-the renewed attention on the Benghazi attack, the IRS targeting of political groups and the Justice Department's subpoena of Associated Press phone records-the president made it clear that the country's main priority is improving the economy.
"The only thing holding us back is a lack of political will. Sometimes our leadership isn't focused where it needs to be focused," he later said, urging the audience to call members of Congress and push them to "focus on getting stuff done."
His comments came the same day he signed a presidential memorandum aimed to speed up the federal permitting processes for infrastructure projects–a move designed to boost jobs.
"We got to up our game," he said. To ensure the economy gets better, he said, the country needs to focus on bringing back manufacturing overseas, increasing wages and better educating and training workers. "That has to be what we're thinking about every single day."
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said the White House has "responded appropriately" to the recent dust-ups and agreed that Washington has been distracted, saying the GOP agenda in the House is "essentially nonexistent."
"This is the least productive time I think I've spent in Congress, we are wasting time," the congressman from Maryland told CNN. "All one needs to do is look at the agenda over the last month and see the emptiness of that agenda. It's not focused on jobs, not focused on fiscal responsibility."
Obama toured Ellicott Dredges–which helped dig the Panama Canal–during his Baltimore visit. Since 1885, the company has designed and manufactured more than 2,000 dredges and exports equipment to more than 100 countries. With 120 employees, Ellicott specializes in beach restoration and coastal protection, as well as dredging in canals, marinas, reservoirs, rivers, harbors, and lakes.
"I was told that one of your customers once named a dredge after President Clinton so I've got my fingers crossed. Never had a dredge named after me so I am looking forward to that," he said.
A bit of drama came before the president's speech, however. The company's owner, Peter Bowe, testified before a Congressional subcommittee Thursday in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project he and many Republicans argue would create jobs.
Obama has not yet approved a large portion of the pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada's tar sounds down to the Gulf of Mexico. Environmental activists fiercely oppose the project, saying the ecological impact would far outweigh the benefits of job creation and energy independence.
Before his speech, Obama visited a Baltimore elementary school that provides comprehensive early childhood education and services, including the federal program Head Start.
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also attended the speaking event.
Last week the president kicked off his jobs tour in Austin, where he met with groups of students, local residents, entrepreneurs and tech professionals. He announced an executive action that creates manufacturing institutes in part sponsored by the federal government.
- CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed to this report