(CNN) - President Barack Obama explained why, amid a series of executive branch controversies, his renewed focus on the economy matters: it's not only about financial stability, but about equal opportunity.
The message he sees as "jobs and justice" from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington 50 years ago still rings true, Obama told The New York Times in an interview published Saturday evening.
To the many Americans who today are uncertain about their future, the 1963 march taught valuable lessons on racial equality and opportunities for "working folks," he argued.
The remarks, days after the president spoke on race and the Trayvon Martin case, came while he was on a campaign-style economic tour.
"Racial tensions won't get better; they may get worse, because people will feel as if they've got to compete with some other group to get scraps from a shrinking pot" if individuals do not see a stable fiscal future, Obama said.
"If the economy is growing, everybody feels invested. Everybody feels as if we're rolling in the same direction," he continued.
Obama's midweek schedule looked familiar to watchers of his 2012 campaign and first White House term, when he favored speaking to crowds at colleges and businesses around the nation over Washington venues when advocating his economic priorities.
After visiting universities in Illinois and Missouri and speaking on the importance of education to the economy, he flew to the port in Jacksonville, Florida, where he called for investment in infrastructure. On Monday, he will speak at a Tennessee shipping center about manufacturing, jobs, and economic growth; then on Wednesday, he will travel to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats in the House and Senate.
He cast aside the questions about such issues as the National Security Agency leaks, Internal Revenue Service political scrutiny and U.S. handling of the Benghazi, Libya, attack last September. "With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball," he said, although he was not specific about which controversies he was referring to.
The White House plans to continue the economic push into the fall.
In the same time frame, he is also expected to make perhaps the most important economic decision of his second term: naming a new individual to chair the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke's term as chairman is set to expire in January.
Obama told the Times he wanted someone who would go beyond tracking inflation and focus on market stability.
"The idea is to promote those things in service of the lives of ordinary Americans getting better," he said. "I want a Fed chairman that can step back and look at that objectively and say, Let's make sure that we're growing the economy."
He disputed Republicans' claims about job creation should the controversial Keystone pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast be constructed. The 2,000 temporary construction jobs he predicted - far less than the 20,000 some Republicans have said to expect - would be a "a blip relative to the need" for job creation.
He suggested that concerns over the pipeline's environmental impact could be addressed to his satisfaction because "there is no doubt that Canada at the source in those tar sands could potentially be doing more to mitigate carbon release."
In the interview, the president acknowledged that people are "anxious" and "frustrated" about their own financial future even while the economy overall improves.
Some do not see the potential for upward mobility, which he called "part and parcel of who we were as Americans."
It predates the fiscal crises of the last decade, he said, and despite the bloated national debt, the federal government's austerity measures have hurt the government's ability to effect change in diverse areas such as climate change and immigration.
"I want to make sure that all of us in Washington are investing as much time, as much energy, as much debate on how we grow the economy and grow the middle class as we've spent over the last two to three years arguing about how we reduce the deficits," he said, blasting what he called "a damaging framework in Washington."
And he issued a stern warning to Capitol Hill Republicans: "I'm not just going to sit back if the only message from some of these folks is no on everything, and sit around and twiddle my thumbs for the next 1,200 days."
A series of polls this month have shown Obama's approval rating is below the 50% mark. But his scores - in the mid- and upper-40s - rank well above those of Congress, which came in at 21% and 12% approval in two surveys conducted about a week ago.
President Obama is doing the right thing – not waiting for congress to say no to any comprises. The American people would agree that it is time for the House of Representatives to do their part. I am 100% behind what the president does.
No, because giving silly speeches is so much more effective.
bla bla bla, second verse same as the first.
this guy, is a smooth talked, does more of talking than doing anything else.
We've been waiting on OBAMA. 5 years, 17 trillion in debt, and growing. When more cities go bankrupt, he will give us some more 'hope and change'. He is the most divisive president in history.
Barack Obama is a politician without shame or embarrassment. He is the one whose policies have caused the national jobs crisis Americans face. He has no conscience when it comes to lying to achieve his goals. I am convinced that if a group of people tried to run this Hawaiian joke out of town on a rail, he would turn it into a parade.
Wasn't the bailout package suppose to fix the economy?!?!
In other words, he does not believe in the three branches of government, a two party system, or government by the people, for the people, and of the people. What it does appear that he believes in is oppressive government that violated the rules or laws as set down by the Constitution, violating citizens rights, destroying the desire to work hard to get ahead by taking from those that have earned what they have and giving it to those that either cannot or will not work for a living in an attempt to make everyone equal. I fear this man, and his administration, and the actions they are applying to the citizens of the USA. What happened to his open government plan, that evaporated as fast as he took the now violated oath of POTUS.
I fear this man, his actions, and administration.
Obama the fool never stops campaigning and blaming
He has no choice to twiddle his thumbs. This is Obama's GREATEST weakness.. He CANNOT work with Conservatives. He has NO diplomatic skillset.. Let him sit and spin or learn to play well in the sandbox.. His key legislation will eventually be repealed and i see that coming in 2016 at the latest. The GOP is already talking about defunding the provisions that require financial resources (think IRS goon squads here). Its really sad that our first black president set back racial equality by 30-40 years.
It seems that the only things the GOP cares about is supressing the vote and stopping women's right.
The true economy shrank 15% since 2008. The "growth" is mere price of gas price and inflation. Middle class decreased from 65% in 1987 to today's 47%.
Unless the bank industry and the non-existent 600 trillion finance "products" collapse, there is no stop for the rapid CHANGE to a giant Mexico, if America still can hold together as a giant Mexico.
Nope, that's not why the economy is bad. Try harder.
The real economy shrank 15% since 2008. The "growth" is mere price of gas price and inflation. Middle class decreased from 65% in 1987 to today's 47%.
So, Obama has the inside view of where "out of work" ameircans can look to gain employment ? Since when did the US GOVT spark a come-back regarding employemnt, or for that matter, "equality" ?? Really, please educate me. PS: I HAVE ALWAYS said I wished OBAMA would have spent the vast amounts of money, woops...I mean TAX PAYER money (not people on welfare, etc) on GOVT wide projects...such as Solar Panels, OIL/Gas plants (esp, since the last one was around 35 years ago). When OBAMA stated he was 'for' protecting USA energy security...why not approve or, I do know, sponsor ACTUAL OIL/Gas plants ?? Odd.
Everything this pres says is baloney he's just starting the 2014 midterm elections early, too bad his idolizing followers are so naive and don't recognize it.
"'I won't twiddle my thumbs' waiting for the GOP." Of course not, he's twiddled his thumbs for over four years.
Obama said yesterday, "Racial tensions won't get better; they may get worse, because people will feel as if they've got to compete with some other group to get scraps from a shrinking pot" Obama has us segregated by groups and race. Obama is the Great Divider... Unite and destroy Great Divider
Will Americans please vote these GOP teapublican obstructionist out of office now
And whatever he cant finish..they'll put Mooch hell up for the next term
NEVER..has a president been so destructive to America...
This man has lost all credibility.
After 5 years of doing nothing, he is nothing rushing to fix the economy.....
Who knew the economy was messed up? Obviously OB is just finding this out. Of course him and Bush... the Obusha team knew there was a problem back in 08 when they bailed out the bankers. That didn't take 5 years. I wonder why....
Mr. Obama, you are supposed to represent all of us. If you can fix the economy, then do it. Please just quit acting like a loser and step up to the plate and do something positive. The American voters have heard every excuse possible and folks from all political persuasions are tired of all of them. Just find something to do that will have the greatest positive effect on the largest number of people and DO IT!