(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.
There are two groups within the Congressional GOP – the moderates and the far right. This makes it impossible to get any significant bills through Congress. Obama will have to use Executive Orders as much as possible until hopefully the public wakes up and starts with a new Democratic Congress in 2014.
Years of speeches and incompetent governance, so let's give yet another speech! Per usual, it's someone else's fault.
it does not matter if he has good ideas or not, congress is not working on the real problems of our conntry. The GOP just wants to protect the rich and the hell with everyone else, If they do not like the President's ideas, they should bring there own ideas to the table, just cutting taxes and reducing the budget will not create jobs and jobs create tax revenue while creating healthy happy Americans. People working is the little engine that could!
Now he's trying to say that it's unfair for someone that has worked their entire life and earned what they have gets to enjoy iit. He seems to think they should take it away and give it to people that HAVEN'T. And to make it worse he is trying to paint racial under tones to it. Wouldn't it be nice to have a president that cared for America and it's citizens instead of trying to turn everyone against each other in an attempt to cover up his incompetence and corruption of his administration
No more this nice guy stuff. If there is anything that the POTUS can do to help this contry and people move forward he should do. Right now! We the people need to do our part and remove all of the obstructionists from the playing field come 2014 and beyond. CLINTON 2016
Congress is bought off by the large companies and totally driven, OR I should say, UNDRIVEN by whatever direction those political winds winds blow. This country is paralyzed and in its last days. Any good thing that happens is purely accidental. Obama is simply whistling dixie.
a leader who dictates or a dictator who leads?
The President is miss-stating the issue. It's the Senate, controlled by the Democrats, which is holding up many pieces of legislation passed by the House of Representatives. Many of these pieces of legislation are bipartisan bills on Jobs, the economy and healthcare. When the President visits with his Democratic house leaders later this week, he should "lead from the front" and urge them to put all house bills on the floor for debate and vote.
The American people elected these Senators to advocate for us, not for one Senate leader to hold all Americans hostage for his personal, political agenda. If the bills passed by the house, and then the Senate are the wrong bills for America, "We the People" have the duty to Vote each elected official out of office with the next election. These are the rules established by the Constitution, we don't need to follow Harry Reid's rules any longer.
"Phony scandals" aren't phony at all. Bengazi. IRS, NSA, and causing worse race relations after speaking out on things he should stay away like the Zimmerman trial are good examples of real scandals.
He won't wait for anyone else? What then has he been waiting for? It's been 5 years since you've been in office, and yet you promised back then to improve the economy.....so what's the delay?? Oh yeah, you're the official Blamer in Chief, aren't you??
"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."
Nope, I am going to play more GOLF to pass the time away.
The American people also won't wait on the Guns Over People Shutdown Government tea potty. Been waiting for jobs,jobs,jobs for two years now.
This from a man who has zero experience in economics. We go from bad to worse.
If you think about the effect that adding 10 to 30 million workers, from the amnesty, to a labor pool that already has about a 15 to 30 million worker surplus, add to that some bad trade deals, then really nothing to offset that is even being contemplated in D.C. You're really looking at labor surplus for lifetimes to come, no pay raises, shrinking incomes, high unemployment, loss of middle class. Plenty for the rich, misery for the workers. As far as a Fed Chair, every one of the past several Chairs have been dismal failures, mostly right wing nut jobs, advocating supply side economics. Their #1 job is to make sure that Americans have good jobs, and they are a complete failure at that. We are likely to get another right wing extremist in there, then it's more dismal news for workers, a failed Chairman before he gets started.
Yeah Obama. You go for it. The same failed policies, the same lies, the same cover ups. Those are the signs of a great leader.
Oh so you've been waiting 5 & 1/2 yr's to finally do something..Nice !
Since Obama’s speech was nothing new and he never negotiates, why do you believe anything will be different?
Here is my jobs plan.
If you believe me, you can make our government create 10 million jobs over night with no loss of tax revenue. May I first mention the rule of 72 for doubling. 6 into 72 takes 12 years to double. 12 into 72 takes 6 years to double. $300 billion of the corporate taxes could be used to hire 10 million workers at $30,000 a year by giving a 10% bottom line tax credit for every 1% increase in hiring or hire 10% more and pay zero tax. The government will collect new taxes from the newly employed including 45 billion in Social Security and Medicare taxes, plus income tax, sales tax, local income, and many other taxes. The government will pay out less in early Social Security and Medicare caused by early retirement because of job loss, unemployment compensation plus many other items. We have 160 million workers now and the 10 million new workers increase the work force by 6% and that also increases the customer Gross Domestic Product, GDP by 6%. With our present growth rate of 2% and adding that 6% extra plus the new hiring caused by the demand would give us about a 9% growth rate. 9% into 72 means that our economy would double in 8 years to a 32 trillion dollar economy, a 64 trillion dollar economy in 16 years, a 128 trillion dollar economy in 24 years and a 256 trillion dollar trillion dollar economy in 32 years. If we did not increase spending our GDP of 256 trillion would only have a debt of 16 trillion. This growth rate would be at the same rate as China instead of growing at 2% to take 32 years for our economy to double to only 32 trillion, while we spend an extra trillion a year which is a 6% increase in debt each year to double our debt every 12 years to have a debt of 96 trillion in 32 years and only a 32 trillion dollar GDP. Our economy is a national security issue. If we do not grow we need to speak Chinese.......................................... Please think about our Social Security. Washington says we take out 3 times more that we take in. Not by my math. If they had bought treasuries at 4%, the money would have doubled in 18 years and 4 times bigger in 36 years. Our Social Security should be treated as a trust fund not a slush fund to buy votes......Kenneth Krieger Cape Coral, Florida
Obama is just plain hypocritical, calling the Republicans partisan and in so stating acting partisan. In lieu of working with Republicans he seems to be force feeding his agenda to them. Obama's arrogance is forcing himself to twiddle his thumbs. How well has going around his opposition really worked, Obamacare being a good example?
Why not work with the Republicans to find a solution that actually works for the people instead of playing the blame game? Does Obama think only his solutions will work? In my opinion, the best solutions always come from the plethora of diverse ideas that are available in this country to find the best solution, it does however take more blood, sweat, tears, and passion than simply dictating the solution.
Bitter partisanship has always been a part of US politics, winning at all costs, it has proved to be a hard habit to break. I long for the day when the leaders of this great country look across the isle and see an ally, an associate, a co-laborer,and a friend in which they collaborate to find real solutions for the people they represent- no matter their race, status, party, religion, etc. I guess the genuine humility it will take to collaborate wars against the power of government office.
Are high school interns writing your headlines this summer? When the President says he won't "wait for the GOP", he apparently means that he will implement policies that promote economic growth by executive order and regulation rather than by changes in legislation. I cannot find a single reference to a specific regulation of this sort in the article. In fact, I can't find a single economic development or jobs proposal of any sort. "I think Canada should do more about blah, blah, blah Tar Sands Climate Change" is an opinion, not a jobs proposal. "Race relations are bad because people feel left out of the economy" is an observation, not a jobs proposal. "
If he doesn't need Congress' permission to do anything more than "twiddle my thumbs," then why hasn't he already done it? We didn't just start hurting yesterday!
Obama's excuse so he can be a dictator...blame it on the GOP
If Obama did less talking and more doing, we wouldn't be in the shape we are in. He is a good speech maker, but that's where it ends!! He doesn't follow through. His term as President can't get over soon enough for me and I hope we have all learned a valuable lesson.
typical obama leadership – "my way or the highway" – hasn't worked in the last 5 yrs & he still thinks it'll work
Get rid of Congress in all of Capitol Hill
Dear Mr. President, please Show Me The Money.