By Amie Parnes and Jonathan Easley - 06/08/12 04:37 PM EDT
Reeling from last week’s dismal employment report, President Obama on Friday took Congress to task for not passing his jobs bill, which he says would have put up to one million people back to work.
Obama continued his election-year strategy of pinning the blame on Congress while speaking to reporters in the White House Briefing Room on the heels of a rocky time during his presidency.
“There’s no excuse for not passing these ideas,” Obama said in his first press conference since March. “We know they can work.”
“Now if Congress decides despite all that they aren’t going to do anything about this simply because it’s an election year, then they should explain to the American people why,” Obama said.
The jobless rate rose from 8.1 percent to 8.2 in May, as the economy added only 69,000 jobs. That was well below what was expected, and the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised figures for March and April downward, finding the economy created 49,000 fewer jobs than once thought in those two months.
Obama, however, pointed to 27 consecutive months of job growth in his remarks, to say the “private sector is doing fine,” but that state and local economies were struggling and laying off teachers, firefighters and policemen.
He said Congress needs to act to help state and local workers as well as construction workers that have been affected by the housing slowdown. He also called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would make it easier for homeowners to refinance.
“If Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is, how do we help state and local governments? How do we help the construction industry?” he said.
The bleak jobs report added to a rough few weeks for Obama that has sparked new doubts about his reelection prospects. The president learned Thursday he was out-raised by Romney for the month of May, and Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker convincingly survived his recall election on Tuesday in a significant blow to unions and Democrats.
The bulk of Obama’s remarks Friday were devoted to Europe’s economic woes. The president, acting particularly professorial, said there is a path out of the economic crisis.
“In the short term, they’ve got to stabilize their financial system, and part of that is taking clear action as soon as possible to inject capital into weak banks,” Obama said. “Just as important, leaders can lay out a framework and a vision for a stronger eurozone, including deeper collaboration on budgets and banking policy.”
But he said the solutions to the problems “are hard.”
While he said he’s been in frequent touch with European leaders — including German Chancellor Angela Merkel — to “prod, advise, suggest,” Obama said “ultimately they’re going to have to make these decisions.”
Obama also denied reports that national security leaks had been intentionally made by White House officials, calling the reports “offensive.”
“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” Obama said. “It’s wrong, and people, I think, need to have a better sense of how I approach this office, and the people around me approach this office.”
But mostly, Obama sought to telegraph a message that despite “headwinds” the country is facing, he has tried to improve the economy while congressional Republicans have caused gridlock.
“There’s going to be plenty of time to debate our respective plans for the future. That’s a debate I’m eager to have,” Obama said. “But right now, people in this town should be focused on doing everything we can to keep our country strong, and that requires some action on the part of Congress.”
The disappointing jobs report has provided political fodder for Republicans.
Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney has hammered the president repeatedly on the economy, and on Friday, the Republican National Committee released an ad called “Headwinds” that pasted together all of the time Obama has used the term when talking about the challenges facing the economy.
“After four years of blaming headwinds, maybe it’s time for Obama to look in the mirror,” text from the ad reads.
Obama wasn’t asked any questions on Friday about the state of his campaign. Walking out of the briefing room, he ignored questions about Wisconsin and Syria.
He did give a thumbs-up when a reporter shouted a question asking him how he liked the apple and sour-cherry pie first lady Michelle Obama brought him after making a campaign stop in swing state Virginia on Thursday.
—This story was updated at 12:37 p.m.