(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.
I wont' twiddle my thumbs like I've been doing for the past five years.
Choose Paul Krug1man for the Federal Reserve. For once Obama don't pick one of those Goldman Sachs boys or other Wall Street crocks!!!!
You haven't waited yet Obama, you have driven it into the ground already!
Worst prez ever. I can't afford to fill my gas tank. His lies don't help me.
Over 30+ bills wait on Harry Reid's desk to be voted on and was passed by the House. Mr. President, tell Harry Reid and the Senate to vote on these bills and get our economy moving. Tell him to stop twiddling his thumbs and do something. The American tax payer has had enough of his arrogant attitude.
What a great leader.
The president's trip to Chattanooga, Tenn., is scheduled for Tuesday, not Monday as noted in this story.
Barack Obama is shooting straight with the American people. The Republican party scuttled the infrastructure bank because he proposed it. The Republican party has impeded and blocked Obamacare at every turn, even thought it will reduce the cost of health care substantially and cover many more Americans. The Republican party has repeatedly blocked investments in education and job training, although, clearly, our economy needs those things. And the Republican party has obstructed immigration reform based on the "amnesty" issue, which is phoney baloney. So, he is going to take his case to the people and to Democrats in Congress. Even Lyndon Johnson, the best schmoozer ever, once said that if you are determined to make an omlett sometimes you have to break eggs. So let's break the Republican strangle hold on our economy and on our nation, I wish the president every success.
Let's get real for a moment. Obama has had about five years to do something about the economy and make good on every other campaign slogan or promissory speech. His policies and actions have been exactly the same in every respect as those of Bush II and Cheney and those of Clinton & Hilary and Bush I. Fact is the economy on Main Street and for most citizens is worsening, not the deep dives but falling never the less. There are real actions that could be taken that would improve the economy on Main Street but the powers that be, those who really control and own our economy and direct government policies are not going to allow our economy to recover or have citizens again in the driver's seat. Obama will continue to give his highly irritating every word predictable speeches without actions and the pretend Republican verses Democrat career politician and philosophy phony dog and pony show will continue to fool most people...the Wal-Mart shoppers but not educated, dutiful real citizens.
What a concept, 2,000 construction jobs are temporary. All construction jobs are temporary. The house get built, the bridge is completed, the road is finished, when the pipeline construction ends in about 5 years, the construction workers on the pipeline construction go on to another job. Nothing new here. But the jobs created for inspecting and maintaining the pipeline will remain. Workers will still be working at the refineries. Workers in industry will benefit from fuel oil to run the plants. The prez did not count the ancillary jobs that will be created after the pipeline is completed.
5 years into his presidency, he won't stand by twiddling his thumbs on the economy. The only sort of solution he mentioned in the article is investment in infrastructure...that's the same one we heard 5 or 6 years ago. Where are the proposals and options that will drive solutions to this problem? Lots of grandstanding and showmanship and oration and finger pointing, but no real solutions.
This President has, unfortunately been twiddling his thumbs for almost five years, he has dazzled us all with his rhetoric for five years. Now it's time for some serious action, and he has no plan of action other than the same agenda of over-spending that he has had for almost five years. His blowing-off of the corruption and lies that are rampant in his administration as "phoney scandals" is extremely arrogant and an insult to the intelligence of the American People.
Must be getting dusty back there.
4 1/2 years later, after his policies have done nothing to improve a terrible economy, and in some cases made it worse, Obama says he is not going to wait for the GOP. Laughable!!
Great way for Obama to distract from all the really issues. He throws racism into the mix to sidetrack the true issues of this country. First off, we call Obama black yet he is half white. Why are we stating George Zimmerman is white when he clearly looks Latino? Second, I think we have had more than equal chances for every race to get jobs, no matter what color. The TRUE problem is that Obama has done nothing about the economy! 5 years and he has done nothing but waste money on two stimulus packages and the Obamacare is an epic fail! The only thing he is good at is taking vacations and spending our money! Somebody impeach him just because he is horrible!
I like what Obama said you cannot be against something only but you have to be for something.
Yes, fiscal conservatism is essential, but you cannot just cut here, cut there, cut from everything and wait for economy to fix itself. That will not work.
President Obama's attempt to turn attention away from the multitude of scandals enveloping his administration are a poor attempt to manipulate the American public. First, some of the "phoney scandals," as Obama calls them, have been given initial validity by his own words (for example, the IRS targeting of conservative groups). Second, many question if Obama is serious about moving the US economy in a positive directions after failure to even come close to keeping one of his main campaign promises: that of balancing the American budget.
unbelievable... this is our President? Nixon said something similar. In all honesty, i hope this man steps down, because he does NOTHING but campaign and blame.
What a liar this "President" is.....who voted this chump in, anyway ?
No worries its all fake
What a train wreck this guy turned out to be. Hope and change? naah. Rope a dope and shuck and jive is his legacy
Obama's idea of economics is spending ourselves rich. It doesn't work, Barry.
I guess the gop still doesn't see their train wreck loss coming in the 2014 midterms where they lose the house and senate because of their incompetence and obstruction. Haven't we seen this before???? In their 2012romney train wreck , the GOP just doesn't get it , your gerrymandering wont work when only one percent of America supports your horse and buggy agenda. The GOP are total losers who have done nothing for amerianpeople for over. Five years. Good by GOP bafoons just like 2012!!!!!
To sum up his speech-Me good, GOP bad, blame bush, ignore scandals, blame bush, fix economy(again), executive action, and to close lets blame bush some more
Obama is 100% anti business. Its amazing any are still running