Obama poised to refocus on economy

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With a number of weighty issues — from budget deadlines to guns and immigration — competing for his attention, the president will use Tuesday night’s State of the Union address to again try to persuade the country that his top priority is the economy.

But Mr. Obama has tried to pivot back to the economy so many times — to such meager effect — that he may have box-stepped himself into a corner.

After asking voters to give him another four-year term to solve the country’s slow-growth woes, the president knows his legacy will rise or fall with the economy’s fate.

Since first winning office in late 2008, this is the fifth time Mr. Obama has broadly pledged to make jobs his No. 1 priority.

This latest pledge comes after the unemployment rate went in the wrong direction last month, rising to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in December.

The December jobless numbers matched the 7.8 percent rate that awaited Mr. Obama when he first took office.

The jobless rate quickly shot up to close to 10 percent before coming gradually back down — but the stubbornly high numbers have given Republicans plenty of fodder for attacking the president’s record on the economy and his latest pledge to redouble his efforts to create jobs.

“In 2014, the United States will see a sixth year of 71/2-percent-plus unemployment,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, citing Congressional Budget Office figures on the Senate floor late last week. “The last time the U.S. jobs picture was that bad, Americans were still huddling around the family radio.”

After the latest round of headlines over the weekend about Mr. Obama’s intention to refocus on the economy, the Republican National Committee labeled Mr. Obama the “pivoter-in-chief,” and Mr. McConnell’s spokesman Don Stewart sent out an accompanying email skewering the president over the speculation about White House priorities.

If reporters and their readers alike have a sense of deja vu, they’re not imagining it, he said.

“Do not seek medical attention — you actually have heard it all before; you have read headlines over and over about a ‘pivot’ to jobs,” he wrote in the email. “In fact, you’ve heard it for the entirety of the Obama administration (sadly, along with headlines about chronic unemployment.)”

Critics have also argued that the president spent too much time in his inaugural address placating his liberal base with talk of more tax increases and promises to press forward on such issues as climate change and gun control rather than a pro-business agenda that would help jump-start the economy.

The day before the president’s first State of the Union speech of his second term, the White House struggled to respond to accusations that Mr. Obama is juggling too many issues, rather than focusing the administration’s energy on job growth.

“I don’t have the numbers for you, but it is simply a fact that while the inaugural address contained within it very powerful lines from the president about issues like comprehensive immigration reform or the need to address climate change or gun violence, all of those issues combined got less space, if you will, in the inaugural address than the economy and jobs, and the reflects the overall approach the president takes,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters who responded with chuckles at the attempt to quantify different parts of the speech.

Mr. Carney also said the White House is focused on issues such as immigration that have a direct impact on the economy and businesses throughout the country.

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