(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.
Why would he wait for the GOP.....he's been twiddling his thumbs for 5 years all on his own.
To all you conservatives, Obama is one of the most conservative Presidents we've had in recent history! And the right wingnuts still won't work with him because he's black! Just look at the Monsanto protection bill he signed. It stops courts from preventing Monsanto GMO seed from being planted. Monsanto seed is the ONLY seed protected in this way! It also allows 25X as much Roundup in the food. Why? Because Roundup isn't working as well, Gee who is shocked???? This means they need to add even more Roundup because the weeds are now resistant. Okay say Roundup was safe at current levels???? Is it still at 25X the level???? There's zero testing to prove this. Even water can kill you if you drink enough. If conservatives are upset with Obama imagine how Liberals feel!
Republicans never do anything for the poor and the middle class, NEVER!
If you don't believe me, name one program the GOP advocates for the poor and middle class, JUST ONE PROGRAM!
When the economy really needed to be addressed at the beginning of his first term, Obama did nothing about it. Instead he ignored our failing economy and put almost all of his efforts into passing Obamacare, legislation that will cost more than double he promised. Legislation that congress, the senate, the executive branch and now the IRS wants to be exempt from. Is it any wonder we are still dealing with getting out of this hole. His only consistency has been being one step too late and not "keeping his eye on the ball".
I wouldn't give a republican, the sweat off the side of an ice pitcher. Deal with it.
Mr. President, with all due respect sir, we've been waiting on you for 5 years now. You can make these excuses all you want about the GOP political party, you seem pretty good at that but the blame game is not going to help people get jobs. Get rid of Obama Care, talk to states like Florida who have improved in job creation and get advice from them and start getting America jobs! If you can't do that then resign!
Canadian tar sands oil is going to the gulf coast whether there is a pipeline or not... shipping it by train will not help mitigate carbon release.
The GOP holds the House.
Obama's Party holds the Senate and Presidency
The "worst recovery" in over 60 years and the 5th year of Obama.....and NOW he says he is in a hurry...
It is up to the President to Propose and up to the Congress to Dispose.
Obama needs to LEAD, not whine that 1/3 of the Government .. the House... not doing his job for him.
Obama is in way over his 'lil ol Ideological head.
The GOP havent and wont work this guy I know why so do you but does it upset you ?
Oh, you twiddled your thumbs for the last five years doing............NOTHING! Not going to hurt if you keep doing it for another 3.
Well good buddy, you ain't the only game in town. For many years people took care of themselves. Where help was needed people gave help. Try trusting the people once in a while. We may be a bunch of stumble bums (To You) but bare with us, we are doing the best we can.
Just like the last five years....
Ya all those republicans care about is power. Remember when they had the audacity to pass all of those stimulus and bailout bills in order to give their constituents money and kick the can down the road a couple of years. Then they had the nerve to escalate the war in Afghanistan only to cut a deal with the Taliban. And all CNN does is grill Obama anytime he tries to get anything done. George Bush needs to be put In Prison.
most activist president ever; just wish he would and for that matter congress would listen to the people; our agenda is so much different than washington
YOU won't wait for the GOP? hehe hahaha hahaha hahahahahaha
Obammy you just keep on getting funnier every day. Where were you in your first 4 years when you didn't need a SINGLE republican vote to pass anything?
Of course he won't "wait for the GOP" – he'll just continue to blunder along helping to push through pieces of legislation like Obismalcare, which is already a nightmare and a quagmire – just as the members of the GOP told him it would be – no, he won't wait for them to tell him – because he doesn't want to hear how rotten his Socialistic idiocy really is!
Where was this so concerned Obama on the economy in 2010 when the Democrats controlled everything, let me help you out, they were passing the largest tax bill in the history of the United States. So why is the economy now such a concern, perhaps he's realizing that his administration is responsible solely for adding more people to the Food Stamp cost, to the Welfare bill and to the uncounted number of people that have quit looking for work and figured to go on the government hand down program. So sad that the economy was not a concern back in the "summer of recovery", like Obama flapped his lips about in 2010, should be believed now, and why he's not cared before.
Another meaningless speech, designed to divert public attention from his failures. Divide instead of unite – shameful.
did you get a new laser beam yet???
Its been 5 years? Not going to twiddle your thumbs? We are so toast.....
What is scary is that there are some people foolish enough to believe what this idiot says. It's not that you are lazy or stupid, or spend all your time walking around town with your pants hanging down trying to impregnate the girls in the neighborhood without being a father, that you can attend a rally for a dead thug but can't attend PTA meetings. No, it's none of these. You don't have yours because someone else has managed to be successful. What a sad vision the president casts.
Just think GOP, if you weren't such bvtth0les during the reign of Dubya maybe you wouldn't be getting slapped around now
OMG, I'm impressed! Up till now I never realized how good Obama was at straight-faced stand up comedy!
make IBM pay more taxes Obama. They have screwed our american engineers.
Get the price of gas and energy down and it would be a good start the Mr Obama. The oil companies have the congress in their pockets and you can do something about it, it's way past time. We are tired of being screwed at the pump and in the home.