President Obama will grab credit for an improving economy in a series of speeches this week that the White House hopes will increase his political clout.
The messaging effort is intended to portray Obama as focused on jobs, which voters repeatedly say is the most pressing issue facing Washington, according to the White House.
“We have to keep focused on these issues, even as we all are buffeted about by, you know, the variety of things that confront us … fake scandals or things like that,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday at his daily briefing.
“We have to keep focused on the North Star here, the issues that the American people want us to be focused on,” he added.
Gallup reported Monday that Obama’s approval rating fell for the second consecutive quarter between April 20 and July 19. Obama averaged a 47.9 percent approval rating over the period, down from 49.7 percent in the first quarter of his second term and 51.9 percent in the period covering his reelection.
The president’s faltering approval rating suggest a host of controversies ranging from intrusive and secret National Security Agency programs to alleged targeting of conservative groups by the IRS have hurt Obama’s public standing.
By getting Obama out on the road, the White House hopes to shift the political narrative and put the president on offense instead of defense.
Republicans say they’re not worried by what they described as just the latest White House pivot to the economy.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in a blog post Monday said that this was at least the 11th time that Obama had “pivoted” back to jobs and the economy.
“Inevitably, it gets pushed to the side in favor of their liberal agenda until, a few months later, they’ll roll it out again — like the same beat-up old car with a new paint job,” the NRCC’s Matt Gorman said.
Administration officials admitted Obama would offer little if anything new in this week’s three economic addresses.
“We plead guilty to the charge there is a thematic continuity,” Carney said Monday.
He said Obama’s comments this week would offer “a longer view of the economic future” and a return to the “issues people care most about.”
The push will begin with a speech in Illinois on Wednesday, with follow-up events in Missouri and Florida scheduled later this week. The White House has heavily promoted all three speeches through an email to supporters and a YouTube video previewing the addresses.
Carney said Obama’s remarks would be thematically broad, and sold the address as a sweeping discussion of the American economy rather than a specific policy prescription.
Even without new proposals, Democratic strategists argue the events will help Obama underline the country’s improved economic health, a position that could help his party in next year’s midterm elections.
The economy had added an average of 200,000 jobs per month for the past six months. While the unemployment remains high at 7.6 percent, the strong job growth and improving housing market has bolstered confidence in the economy.
Strategists say it would have been more difficult for Obama to take credit a few months ago, where there was less evidence the economy was improving.
“Before there was a worry that you’d be dancing and celebrating on the 20-yard line, but now the ball is in the end zone, you do have a recovering economy that he can now definitively point to with a lot of empirical data,” said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane.
Some Democrats appear to believe Republicans have missed their chance to take out Obama by focusing on scandals.
“Republicans had a total fixation on some of these phony issues that ended up not materializing,” Democratic strategist Doug Thornell said.
“It was a wasted opportunity because they didn’t develop a message, which backfired on them and left this opening for the president to seize this issue,” he argued.
Obama’s previous economic pushes have been generally ignored by the House GOP, with the exception of an extension of a payroll tax cut in 2012 that was not continued this year.
Obama attempted a reboot of his nationwide jobs tour earlier this year with stops in Baltimore and Austin, Texas, but momentum fizzled as several political controversies gained steam.
While the speeches are intended to contrast Obama favorably with Republicans, Carney said Obama would avoid a direct scrap over funding the government or raising the debt ceiling, two issues expected to dominate in the fall.
“I would … steer you away from an expectation that this speech or that these series of speeches will focus on specific struggles with Congress,” Carney said.