(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.
America will never be a prosperous country so long as the Republican Party exists.
The presidents role is to lead and cajole, not to dictate. He needs to get more WE and less I in his rhetoric and actions.
obama's disgraceful failure at pretending to be a president is exactly why a failing america's economy is so bad.at this point congress wont let obama do anything but go on vacation,have celebrity parties at the white house and RESIGN!
Then what was 2009-now?
You know, I can't stand the GOP leadership. Want to know what the amazing thing is though? I can't stand Obama and voted third party over him and Romney in 2012. My guess is this recent "pivot" is him trying to play to his strengths and distract people from the fact he has eviscerated the Constitution more than Bush did. The economy is still abysmal for many people, and the Obama foreign policy is pretty much the Bush foreign policy on steroids. This is not a good economy, and this is not good policy. You have a president who is in eternal campaign mode, is a warhawk that pranced around as someone the anti-war left could trust, etc. Actually I'm most shocked that you could have such a weak president and the other side will still make him look good. This country is in desperate need of a third party, because the Obama/Reid/Pelosi policies have been awful, and the GOP leadership has done no better. The leadership of the Congress and the Executive branch is an embarrassment to this country.
i want the president to do everything he can to make sure that Americas future is bright. It looks like we are about to lose the greatness of America.
Benghazi is not a "phony scandal". The lack of action and the lies have not been fully addressed. Why haven't we heard from any of the survivors? Could it be that they wouldn't back up the official narrative?
To Hell with the GOP, Mr. President. Use the power of executive order, stop letting the GOP obstruct any progress.
So what ARE you waiting for??? We're five years into your presidency...
In this day and age when nobody in either party is able to fix the economy, it is nice to have a president at least on camera telling the middle class he is on their side. We know we are screwed, but its nice to hear he agrees it sucks.
There is only one phoney in Washington DC and that is this incompetent divisive PHONEY President.
So same old Ram it down. Welcome to NAZI Germany.
Sure Obama....,blame someone else!
Obama blaiming the republicans.....sure!
why wait obama you POS. after all you spent us in to bankruptcy and you have yet to honor any laws. You k1ll women and children with drones and you support Al Qaeda terrorist in Syria and talks wit the taliban that have k1lled US troops. You should be in Hauge to stand trails for your crimes against humanity and human rights violations
THere seems to be no creativity with this president. Why not offer low taxation for the billions sitting in off shore accounts if the money is brought back to the US and invested in job creation projects, which include infastructure improvements.
Am feeling strongly American Voters must have made a mistake by handing a divided Congress (with Repubs controlling the House ) to Obama Administration, based on pre-misconcept of the intentions of the Administration. This needs to be corrected come 2014 if things should move better. How can one justify the logic of allowing the entire America be controlled by the 1 % rich. Is doubtful whether this was the intention of America Founding Fathers, even under free enterprise AMERICA. The Obama Administration makes sense over great programs it has for the people. The initiatives under this Administration are wonderfully inspiring so far. The GOPers know this but want to stall them. The only remedy are the American people.
What a joke. Obama is clueless regarding the economy. Listen to conservatives if you want to get things back on track.
Oh good. So he's not working with the other side again. So unexpected.
He'll bankrupt the country...He'll won't for the GOP to save us!
He twiddled his thumbs for 6 years straight, why change now?
Glad you are not waiting on the GOP, but I must ask, what are you waiting on? You have been President for close to five years or so and you ran both your campaigns, rightfully so, that the economy was your first priority.
I do not even want to know what your second priority is. I will be retired by the time you get around to that.
Oh, please Mr. President no more spending. Not more stimulus money.
If doesn't need Congress' consent to do anything besides "twiddle his thumbs," then why hasn't he already done it? We didn't just start hurting yesterday!
If he doesn't need Congress' consent to do anything besides "twiddle my thumbs," then WHY hasn't he already done it? We didn't just start hurting yesterday!