(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.
just an obamanation lieing cheating and stealing.. nothing new here
Well the economy won't wait for you either. Short term government action has little effect on the economy. The economy is much more affect by the international scene, the mood of the people and many other outside factors other than government.
His plan is to saturate the economy with illegals and give lower and lower middle class citizens the finger.
Yes, yes, we've heard this all before. He will not rest.... yes, yes.
"People will feel as if they've got to compete with some other group to get scraps from a shrinking pot."
This quote sums up not only his entire presidency and the direction of our country, but his entire ideology. Shrink the pot until the government is the only provider for the masses.
This man is a stain on our great history. An absolute stain.
"To the many Americans who today are uncertain about their future... " Why don't you just come out and say "blacks"?
The "Do Nothing Congress" comprised of the GOP is a dismal failure. The sad part is they still get a paycheck. If they worked in the "real world" they would have been fired and standing on the unemployment line.
Twiddling thumbs is out, disregard for the constitution is in.
Race relations? Really? Doesn't he mean 'jobs taken away from AMERICANS and given to ILLEGAL ALIENS? You know, those uneducated, third-world felons who already take jobs that unemployed AMERICANS WOULD TAKE, if it weren't for the fact that illegals are hired to work for dirt pay / cash under the table / no benefits. We DO need to institute a RULE OF LAW. If a company hires an illegal alien (i.e., without doing a background check or receiving REAL american identification) or pays them 'under the table' (the IRS can certainly help with discovery), the company OFFICERS get charged with a FELONY and go to JAIL. Certainly, that would stop these good for nothings from invading our country and decimating our way of life by stealing jobs, by driving without licenses or insurance, by getting healthcare and welfare without ever paying into the system. We also should have armed guards at the border who are allowed to shoot-to-kill such 'undocumented' INVADERS. WE ARE AT WAR FOLKS and our 'president' is a traitor.
Oh my gosh, how funny is this statement? You HAVE done nothing for the past five years, Mr. President! When will you actually lead from the front, instead of behind, blaming everyone for your failures and lack of leadership??
Wow what an idea the president is going to take the lead on jobs, in his fifth year.
What tea party republicans don't factor into their total disregard of doing what's good for our country....is soon there will be another president! One they may not all be able to unite in their hatred for. That's a problem because then they will see without those blinders on,the damage they have done to their country ,it's people and their own party. Shame on the narrow minded!!!
Obama is just now saying he is no longer going to wait for the GOP? Where has he been these last 5 years?
I guess timing is everything. His poll numbers must be down. :O
What a total disgrace...the man understands nothing and repeats anything racist he thinks will work in his party's favor...boy, I hope by 2014 we'll be so tired of the crap that we get rid of all incumbent dems...they are destroying this country. Their socialist agenda will take nearly every dollar you make and then want more for their bogus nonsense...shrinking pot indeed!
The word is SCANDALS.
Time to impeach Obama. Note to Obama: Congress represents Americans. You must wait for them and not overstep your authority.
Nothing about the liberal controlled Senate; I guess he totally gave up on them doing anything.
This is his 18th speech where he said he was now going to have a renewed focus on the economy. His billions in bailouts have failed to produce the desired results and most has been wasted, like the high percentage of repeat defaulters after receiving mortgage assistance. The only reason unemployment is where it is currently is due to the record number of people who have left the labor force altogether after their benefits ran out or are now working part time jobs. More people are now on food assistance than ever before. And apparently four Americans murdered in Benghazi, IRS targeting of certain groups, the DOJ running illegal guns to Mexican drug lords, and NSA spying on US citizens are all just "distractions" and "phony scandals" to Obama. Epic fail.
The only thing more sad than watching our President play the blame game over and over and over and over is watching our economy flounder aimlessly while many of my friends struggle getting laid off over and over.....
Right. He won't wait. He's going on vacation
Words like that will get people together. What a great leader.
There is nothing better than a road trip to distance yourself from the scandals (the very real scandals). Great opportunity to demonize somebody (the Boy Scouts, the NRA, the GOP, Paula Deen, George Zimmerman) and deflect any blame from yourself. Time to step up, Mr. President, and take some responsibility and accountability. How about a Hillary Clinton quote to start your day: "Obama doesn’t know how to be president. He doesn’t know how the world works. He’s incompetent. He’s amateur!” .
It's time to fight for the middle-class and grow this economy.
Obama needs to own up to all of these scandals before any one is going to be able to remotely trust him... So far all we get are "they are fake" or "Phoney scandals" ...
While I think there is work being done on both sides to figure out a budget, Obama is trying to erode away support for the GOP and to discredit them to hide the scandals... ... If the Dems will see the light as to what has been going on and the blatant abuses of power by this administration then there may just be a impeachment.
He's been twiddling his thumbs for 5 years! Why stop now??
Blah, blah, blah....America is Racist.......blah, blah blah....it's the Republican's fault....blah, blah blah......go team Obama.....blah, blah, blah.....it's not my fault. Does this guy ever lead, or is campaigning all he knows how to do? He goes out into the states and says that Washington is the problem and that Washington took it's eye off the economy......he is supposed to be the leader in Washington. Well into his second term and he still appears to fail to grasp the concept of leadership.....as opposed to organizing rallys!