The White House, for at least the fifth time this year, is seeking to pivot to the economy, this time in a bid to change the subject from the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare.
It’s a common play for the White House, which frequently seeks to refocus attention on its jobs and infrastructure agenda when facing political crises.
The move is so familiar that NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd has dubbed it the “déjà pivot.”
Republicans, citing their own statistics, argue that President Obama has circled back to the economy at least 14 times since 2011.
The formula is rote: Following a misstep or messaging error that battered Obama’s approval ratings, the White House announces events intended to promote the president’s economic agenda.
The most recent pivot began Monday with Obama’s trip to the West Coast.
At a community center in San Francisco, Obama said passing immigration legislation would boost the economy. He is to hammer home economic themes again during a speech at the DreamWorks studio in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that, while the implementation of healthcare reform remained a top priority for the president, it wasn’t his only priority.
“We can’t lose sight of the importance of immigration reform,” Earnest said. “We can’t lose sight of the importance of making critical investments in infrastructure and research and development, education that are so critical to creating jobs.”
The Associated Press reported on Friday that the White House would deploy Vice President Biden and Cabinet members across the country to promote the benefits of the economic recovery — and cast Republicans as having prevented greater growth by pursuing the government shutdown.
Asked about the pivots in July, the White House said it is always focused on the economy.
“The fact is the president has repeatedly … focused on the economy in major speeches, events across the country, small gatherings, roundtables, throughout his presidency and prior to his presidency,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “And he will continue to do that because it is the number one most important issue in his mind.”
The first pivot this year appeared to occur with February’s State of the Union address, which was devoted largely to jobs and infrastructure proposals after Obama came under fire for a second inaugural address that critics derided as ambitiously liberal and exclusive.
Three months later, the president announced his Jobs and Opportunity Tour amid questions about the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, and the controversy over the Justice Department’s subpoena of journalists’ phone records.
The carousel returned to the economy again in July, with Obama kicking off a series of economic events with an address at Knox College — the site of his first economic address as a senator in 2005. But that address was perhaps most memorable for Obama dismissing prior controversies — including growing discontent with the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs — as “phony” scandals.
A bus tour of Northeastern colleges in early August was also seen as an attempt to change the subject after the crackdown in Egypt. A month later, Obama held an event in the Rose Garden noting the fifth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers after another foreign policy crisis — the administration’s retracted request for military strikes on Syria — had dominated headlines.
While the plan might be a familiar one, the stakes have never been higher for the White House.
A survey released Monday by CNN and ORC found that just 40 percent of Americans now believe the president can manage the government effectively — a 12-point drop from the summer.
More than half of all voters say that the president is not a person they admire, does not agree with them on important issues, is not a strong and decisive figure and does not inspire confidence — all record lows for Obama.
Democratic strategist Tad Devine believes it’s smart to follow the polling and try to change the subject.
“They should be talking about areas where voters are most deeply concerned, and if you’re going to have a big fight, should it be over the implementation of healthcare reform or one on the economy? One is clearly advantageous to us,” he said.
But the biggest risk for the White House is that its frequent return to the economy in the face of political headwinds becomes parody.
And it’s possible — if not likely — that a return to a familiar refrain about the economy won’t be enough to distract from the problems with ObamaCare, especially if the website remains plagued by obvious technical problems past the end of the month.
“There are limits to the strategy,” said Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer. “It’s hard to really shift people’s attention from dramatic stories, which are tangible like and concrete like the broken website to something like job numbers or the markets.”