President Obama contended on Friday that the private sector is rebounding, but blamed a shaky Europe and a balky Congress for stunting America’s economic recovery — and demanded that Republicans stop blocking his agenda.
Appearing in the White House briefing room, the president chided House Republicans for ignoring his jobs program, particularly with the worsening situation in Europe. “In light of the headwinds that we’re facing right now,” he said, “I urge them to reconsider.”
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Obama also stressed the impact that the eurozone crisis is having on the U.S. economy, cautiously prodding European leaders. “Their success is good for us. And the sooner that they act and the more decisive and concrete their action, the sooner people and markets will regain confidence, and the cheaper the costs of cleanup will be down the road.”
After a week that the White House and all Democrats fervently wish everybody could forget, it was critical for the president to step forward and combat the notion that the nation’s economic affairs are drifting. He needed to show command, to show that somebody is in charge. Obama needed to counter the message of the past week, and he continued to blame everybody else — primarily Europeans across the ocean and Republicans at home — for the bad news.
That news started a week earlier with a dismal May jobs report. Then former President Clinton undercut the Obama campaign’s message on Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney’s private-sector experience. Then Democrats watched Gov. Scott Walker cruise to a solid victory for Republicans in a Wisconsin recall battle the White House never wanted to see waged. That was followed by more bad news from Europe and another counter-message from Clinton on the Bush-era tax cuts. And don’t forget that Republicans and Romney are now out-fundraising Obama and Democrats. And just hours before the president came before reporters, CNN released a poll showing that a majority of the country — 51 percent — continues to oppose the health care overhaul that is the signature accomplishment of his first term.
It might not have been what The Washington Post called a “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week.” But it was pretty bad.
The president’s answer was to return to the message he’s been testing for a month: It’s all the fault of the Republicans in Congress who are ignoring the To Do list he unveiled on May 8 in Albany, N.Y. The list is a mix of previously announced measures, including tax credits for hiring, mortgage relief for homeowners, and expanded tax credits for clean energy.
Anticipating that message, House Republicans fired back before Obama even spoke. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, noted that the To Do list “has been ignored in the Democrat-run Senate.” Trying to keep the blame at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Buck, contended that the Republican House already has “passed more than 30 jobs bills that are sitting in the Senate right now.”
The president argued that the economic growth is not as robust as it should be because of layoffs by state and local governments. “Overall, the private sector has been doing a good job creating jobs. We’ve seen record profits in the corporate sector,” he said. “The big challenge we have in our economy right now is state and local government hiring has been going in the wrong direction.”
Republicans, led by Romney, seized on his comment that “the private sector’s doing fine.” In a statement, Romney asked, “Is he really that out of touch?” He added, “I think he’s defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people,” calling Obama’s comment an “extraordinary miscalculation.”
The GOP has been quick to charge that Obama is trying to blame Europe for problems here at home. But the abbreviated press conference, during which the president took questions from three reporters, did provide the sharpest insight yet into both the president’s approach to the European crisis and the amount of his time it is demanding.
“It’s fair to say that over the last two years, I’m in consistent discussions with European leadership and consistent discussions with my economic team,” he said, adding, “This is a global economy now and what happens anywhere in the world can have an impact here in the United States.”
Obama’s concern for the fragility of the European Union and the plight of hard-hit countries like Greece was evident as he tried to strike a careful balance between supporting allied leaders and warning them against policy missteps.
“What we’ve tried to do is to be constructive, to not frame this as us scolding them or telling them what to do, but give them advice based on our experiences here,” Obama told reporters.
In his most expansive comments yet on the situation across the Atlantic, he pointedly warned Greece not to leave the EU. “The Greek people need to recognize that their hardships will likely be worse if they choose to exit the Eurozone,” he said.
Obama also cautiously praised European leaders for coming to the conclusion that they need to stress growth and not exclusively focus on austerity. “They understand the seriousness of the situation and the urgent need to act,” he said. “They’ve got to promote economic growth and job creation. Some countries have discovered it’s a lot harder to rein in deficits and debt if your economy’s not growing.”
The president said EU leaders face “tough” decisions, but that “Europe has the capacity to make them. And they have America’s support.”
He did not add — but could have — that the sooner the continent stabilizes economically, the sooner the president’s reelection campaign can rebound and the less likely it is he will have to suffer through another week as gloomy as the one just ended.