Carney: Obama focused on economy not ‘phony scandals’

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White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday defended President Obama’s planned pivot to economic issues, arguing it was time to shift the discussion in Washington “beyond the phony scandals that have consumed so much attention here.”

“He’s focused on the economy,” said Carney on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “He’s not focused on pretend scandals.”

Obama is slated to deliver a speech in Galesburg, Ill. on Wednesday, the first in a number of economic addresses ahead of a series of crucial budget fights with Congress this fall.

The White House has said Obama will seek to press lawmakers to pass legislation to aid the middle class and continue the nation’s economic recovery.

Carney engaged in a heated discussion with MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, who said the administration was trying to downplay legitimate probes into the IRS targeting scandal.

“What we’ve seen is inappropriate activity that the president came out and forcefully said he would not tolerate,” said Carney, insisting that the president had dealt with the issue appropriately. 

“I accept that we need to get to the bottom of what happened at the IRS, and we need to make sure our government is performing in a way we can be proud of, but we also need to focus on the economy. And what’s frustrating, I think, for so many Americans is that we are not.”

Carney said that president’s message was consistent with the administration’s long-term focus on the economy and job creation, not any change in strategy or messaging. 

“It’ll be thematically consistent,” said Carney, adding that many of the problems faced by the middle class before the recession were still in play.

"We need to focus our attention on ways we can invest in education, in rebuilding our infrastructure, scientific research and innovation, even as we make smart choices about our spending so we continue to reduce our deficit,” said Carney.

The speech comes as recent polling shows Obama's job approval ratings have near record lows, with a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll Tuesday finding him underwater at 45 percent approval, and 50 percent disapproval.

A recent McClatchy-Marist poll found that just 37 percent approve of the president's handling of the economy while 56 percent disapprove. 

Republican lawmakers though have dismissed the president’s forthcoming economic push, with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) calling it a “big set-up” for a push for higher taxes. 

Republicans say the president and Democratically controlled Senate have ignored jobs legislation passed by the House. 

Carney said Obama has been committed to working on the economy throughout his presidency.

"We have proven, both the president and Republicans in Congress, that we can help the economy grow without leaving the middle class holding the bag, and we need to do that moving forward and the president will focus on ways we can do that," he said.