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Obama shifts focus to jobs

Updated: 2013-05-17 19:47
( Agencies)

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama on Friday will seek to turn the spotlight from controversies threatening to swamp his agenda to the economic issues by announcing he will make it easier to get federal building projects off the ground.

The president travels to Baltimore, where he is due to say that he has signed a presidential memorandum streamlining the review and permitting of federal infrastructure projects.

In making the announcement while posing in front of heavy dredging equipment at a factory, Obama will have a chance to remind the public that he wants to spend $50 billion on repairing the nation's aging roads, bridges and ports. Later, he will visit an elementary school where he will stump for his goal of providing universal pre-schooling for the nation's children, which he views as a vital stepping stone to a better-educated, better-trained US work force.

The president hopes his focus on jobs and education will change the subject from a trio of storms that have beleaguered his administration in recent days and that some believe could overrun his second term agenda.

In the past week, he has been forced to go on the defensive about his administration's handling of the attack on the US facility in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups for special scrutiny, and the Justice Department's seizure of phone logs of reporters and editors of the Associated Press in connection with an investigation of leaks of classified information.

After responding tentatively at first, the president took more active steps beginning Wednesday with the ouster of the acting IRS commissioner and announcement of support for legislation making it easier for reporters to protect their sources. He has called the IRS' actions inexcusable and pledged to find out who was responsible and hold them accountable.

On Thursday, the president and his staff stepped up efforts to get ahead of critics. The chief executive called for stepped up spending on embassy security, while saying he had no apologies about efforts to protect classified material. He and his surrogates belittled the furor over Benghazi as nothing more than a politically motivated campaign orchestrated by congressional Republicans to discredit him.

Obama's trip to Baltimore to talk about his agenda is a good idea and a productive change of scene for him, said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who specialized in damage control for the Clinton White House.

"It gets you out of the bunker," Lehane said.

Shining a light on issues of jobs and growth also lets Obama note positive economic developments such as improving housing and labor markets and a fast-declining budget deficit - pocketbook issues that may have more resonance with the public than inside-the-Beltway political battles.

Still, congressional Republicans will seek to keep the focus on what they say are unanswered questions about all three controversies. IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who was pushed out on Wednesday, testifies before the House tax-writing committee on Friday.

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