(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.
After 5 years of your fixing the economy more people are out of work than when you took office and you have spent nearly 8 trillion dollars and we are now 18 trillion in debt. Great job Obama! LOL....
Obama has been twiddling his thumbs since his first term. He is very good at making jokes, making speeches, being sarcastic, and pointing the finger.... but at everything else, he is the worst elected official in our history
Obama has been making speeches now, but has NO ideas and no leadership skills
The President I voted for has really let me down and has let the country down.
The country will soon be bankrupt–we cannot continue to print meaningless money. The GOP is not against correct spending but spending that will make us a thrid world country or less–Americans have lost their original heritage and expec the government to provide them with everything they need..a nation of hand-outs. If that makes you happy, when the economy tanks, do not look for the government to provide you with anything...use the brain that you were born with..we cannot keep spending what we do not even have, but there are too many who simply are happy with "gimmie."
Can anyone remember such Congressional obstructionsim ever in our US history?
Obama has been talking about the middle class lately.......meaning a big shaft for the middle class is coming soon perhaps he has successfully negotiated the TPP treaty which basically dooms the middle class 2016 can't come fast enough. would be called end of another error. Obama might be half white but he is more corrupt from african dictators or Bush
Irony here is people actually think a President can instantly turn a faltering economy and failing foreign policy around immediately after taking office. When you take office you "play with the hand you're dealt" and Obama wasn't given very good cards. Yet "do nothing" congressmen, who have been in office a lot longer than the President and helped get us in this mess, sit back and blame everything on the current administration. Makes no sense to me.
He should come out and say its illegal to take cyanide, there would be a lot of job openings in the house
People still actually defend this guy? I don't understand how people can be so gullible and believe that his policies are good for this country. He is going to go down in history as the WORST president in history. Obama's long list of failures is impressive.
And shovel ready jobs were a success???
Obama is as much a liar as ever... The last 5 presidents are why we have a job shortage, they gave our jobs away to foriegn countries!!
Want to bring back jobs to America?? Put a 500% import tax on all foriegn goods.. Then Americans would have to buy American and the foriegn competition would be gone!
Americans would get paid to build things and have jobs and money to buy!! End of story!
The politicans have sold us out! Vote them out!
Gunderson amazed. The blame anybody but the liberal's is getting old. Obama has been in office long enough to get some things done. But instead of working with the Congress he is out making speechs and selling Skake Oil. He reminds me of the Rosenbergs that tries to sell the people that they were not spies and giving atomic secrets to the Soviets was just spreading the knoledge. Didn't work The Rosenbergs were excuted.
Now who do you suppose told Obama about Twiddling his Thumps. He didn't learn that at Harvard, did he?
GOP can no longer govern. All they can do is obstruct. I plan to help vote them out. They are the hate party. Really time to move past their stale unfair policies.
The President is being serious with this statement? He is a piece of work. How many jobs could be created immediately if hev would stop dragging his feet on Keystone like the Repubs support. How many coal mining jobs will be lost by new regs from this administration? You are one crock after another Mr. President.
There is a post on AOL front page about about 80 percent of the population in or near poverty. Not good.
Except for when had a majority in both houses all he has done is twiddle his thumbs because he will not negotiate. What was NOT covered in this speech was his statement that he would NOT accept ANY cuts. So, basically he has signaled that he will not negotiate but he will try to blame everyone else for it
Irony here is people actually think a President can instantly turn a faltering economy and failing foreign policy around immediately after taking office. When you take office you “play with the hand you’re dealt” and Obama wasn’t given very good cards. Yet “do nothing” congressmen, who have been in office a lot longer than the President and helped get us in this mess, sit back and blame everything on the current administration. Makes no sense to me.
Mr. President, that is exactly the reason you always get in trouble and are constantly loosing supporters. (Even in the Black community, which YOU falsely claim to be a part of (represent?.) That GO-IT-ALONE attitude is DEFINITELY NOT working for you. Or worst, our beloved country. Transparency at its worst!
Besides, your arguments are getting a little stale with the Américan populace, Mr. President.
Fluff, fluff and more fluff..... so exactly how does he plan to create opportunity? I thought he was going to do that in his first term? Words are cheap. I suspect that solving income inequality to him means giving even more of the tax payers dollars to fund more government hand outs.
i guess shipping all those manufacturing jobs overseas was not a good idea after all .when people run outof money to buy imported goods .its over
Vote the "Party of STUPID GOP" out in 2014!
Dennis; The economy was hemorrhaging over 700,000 jobs a month as the result of Bush/Repugs delisional economic policies, and I was one of them. Repugs are poison for the economy. The economy grows more during a democratic administration (it actually shrunk under Bush). More jobs are created during democratic administrations.
Job creation since 1961:
Republican presidents: 23.9 million
Richard Nixon: Increase of 7.1 million jobs
Gerald Ford: Increase of 1.3 million jobs
Ronald Reagan: Increase of 14.7 million jobs
George H.W. Bush: Increase of 1.5 million jobs
George W. Bush: Decline of 646,000 jobs
Democratic presidents: 42.3 million
John F. Kennedy: Increase of 2.7 million jobs
Lyndon B. Johnson: Increase of 9.5 million jobs
Jimmy Carter: Increase of 9.0 million jobs
Bill Clinton: Increase of 20.8 million jobs
Barack Obama: Increase of 332,000 jobs
Repugs are also trying their best to destroy the middle class, in case you haven't noticed. They hate unions which means they also hate labor.
Has Obama ever kept one promise he has ever made. This guy is a liar and a cheat and should be impeached before he can do anymore damage to this country. He never even had any experience in politics just 2 years in congress. The Democratic Party will let this guy kill this country he has got to be stopped.
Twiddle? Is that better than being inept and getting nothing accomplished beside emitting enough hot air to pollute the air with carbon dioxide?
Typical Obama, "Racial tensions won't get better when one group competes with another to get scraps from a shrinking pot"
and he wants to grant amnesty to people who entered our country illegally. Guess who gets the jobs? Cut taxes and lessen government regulations on business. Can Obamacare and start over after firing Obama.