The Washington Times - April 14, 2009, 12:13PM

President Obama has been home from Europe for nearly a week, but his speech Tuesday is his first major pivot back to the main issue of concern for most Americans: the economy.

Obama’s week abroad, which included stops at the end of the trip in Turkey and Iraq, was certainly not spent on distractions – the president focused on a wide range of significant foreign policy changes including the global economic recession.

But the president was certainly distracted from devoting his full attention to the domestic economy. There’s simply no way to do more than a dozen bilateral meetings with world leaders, deliver major speeches on Middle East policy, nuclear arms reduction, and hold several press conferences without giving away some of the attention previously devoted to the U.S. economy.

And since he returned to Washington in the wee hours of Wednesday morning after a 12-hour flight from Iraq, Mr. Obama has had to deal with the kidnapping by pirates of a U.S. captain at sea off the coast of Somalia, which remained unresolved until Sunday.

The White House has been fortunate that the stock market, which had been in a death spiral since Obama’s election, began to show signs of life again about a week before he left for his trip, and there have been positive earnings reports from some large financial firms since his return.

This has undoubtedly helped the president retain high approval ratings on his plans for the economy in two recent polls. A Tuesday Gallup poll showed 71 percent had “a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in President Obama to do or recommend the right thing for the economy,” while a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll Tuesday showed that 58 percent of respondents believe the president has “a clear plan for solving the country’s economic problems,” though 42 percent think he does not.

Obama did meet with his economic advisers on Friday, and declared there are “glimmers of hope across the economy,” pointing to rising rates of mortgage refinancings and some other indicators, such as consumer confidence.

But his speech at Georgetown University Tuesday morning is the first time since before he left for his foreign trip that he’ll go into detail on the actions taken so far by his administration, his perception of the results, and the significant challenges ahead on jobs and other matters.

Many economic experts warn that unemployment will continue to rise into double digits from its current 8.5 percent mark.

“We know the economy is still in a lot of trouble,” Christina Romer, chairman of the president’s council on economic advisers, said Tuesday morning on NBC’s “Today Show.”

Ms. Romer predicted “several more months of job losses,” and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday said that “we still are likely to see many, many months of unemployment; where hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs.”

“But I think the president wants the opportunity to update the American people on where we are,” he said.

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

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