By Justin Sink
President Obama will kick off a campaign-style tour to promote middle-class economic growth with a series of events this week in Austin, Texas, the White House announced Sunday.
Obama was able to successfully rally Congress to extend the payroll tax cut, lower rates on student loans, and strike this year's "fiscal cliff" deal after a series of public appeals. White House officials are hopeful that by getting out of Washington, the president may be able to regain some momentum for a legislative agenda that has so far stalled in the early months of his second term.
"There's a lot on Congress's plate," a White House aide said Sunday, noting upcoming debates over immigration reform and presidential nominations. "We also want to make sure part of the discussion includes a conversation about the economy, including a focus on some of the ideas that the president rolled out in his State of the Union address."
The White House said that the president planned "a series of these [day trips]… every several weeks or so," with the goal of "trying to assemble this common-sense caucus" to pass some of the president's priorities.
But campaign-style rallies in recent months urging Congress to replace the sequester and approve billions in new spending on infrastructure improvements have done little to move the needle. Encouraging jobs numbers and record highs on the major stock indexes could further complicate Obama's pitch to an already reluctant Republican House.
Moreover, the trips have routinely earned the ire of top Republican leaders, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). During the president's push for a student loan fix, Boehner blasted one visit as "pathetic" and "beneath the dignity of the White House."
In his statement, Earnest took a preemptive swipe at Republican critics, saying "even though some in Congress are determined to create more self-inflicted economic wounds, there are things Washington could be doing right now to help American businesses, schools and workers."
"We need to build on the progress we’ve made over the last four years, and that means investing in things that are already creating good-paying, stable jobs that can support a middle class family," Earnest said.
The White House also pushed back against characterization of the trip as a pivot in strategy. Obama had mostly shelved the campaign-style events in recent months, instead inviting groups of lawmakers from Capitol Hill to the White House and Washington-area restaurants for private meals and discussions. That effort, which earned praise from Republican lawmakers, failed to pay dividends during last month's gun control vote.
"This doesn't necessarily represent a significant change in strategy, as much as it does sort of adding another, sort of reinforcing an idea that's been at the top of our agenda for a long time," a White House aide said. The aide added that the tour was not an effort to leverage votes in Congress, but instead "raise awareness."
In Austin next Thursday, the president will attend four separate events the White House says will focus on improving the economy for the middle class: meeting students at a technology charter school, a meeting with technology entrepreneurs, a visit to an Austin tech company, and a discussion with middle-class workers.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, the city made a 9 percentage point gain in employment during Obama's first term, and new facilities from companies like Apple, Visa and General Motors are under development in the area.
The White House said Sunday that they did not have additional tour stops to announce, with logistics for those trips still being worked out.
It will be the president's second trip to the Lone Star State in less than a month. Last week, he attended the dedication of former President George W. Bush's presidential library and a memorial service for those killed in the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion.
Obama also attended a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in Dallas during his visit last month. Obama's last trip to Austin was in May, 2011, for a pair of fundraising events that hauled in around $2 million for his reelection campaign.
--This report was originally published at 3:43 p.m. and last updated at 4:25 p.m.