Obama gets break from scandals to push jobs and economy in Baltimore

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

After a week filled with controversy and criticism, President Barack Obama left town Friday for Baltimore, the second stop on his "Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour." The trip, which was previously scheduled, took him to a dredging manufacturer and an elementary school, with the next stop on the itinerary a community center.

At Ellicott Dredges in Baltimore, Obama announced an effort to reduce infrastructure red tape as a way to boost the economy.

"Sometimes it takes too long to get projects off the ground," Obama said during a speech, citing permits, red tape and planning delays related to infrastructure projects. "Today, I'm directing agencies across the government to do what it takes to cut timelines for breaking ground on major infrastructure projects in half. And what that means is that construction workers get back on the jobs faster, it means more money going back into local economies, and it means more demand for outstanding dredging equipment that is made right here in Baltimore."

The stop at the manufacturer adds the potential of controversy to his trip. The owner of Ellicott Dredges, Peter Bowe, shares the view of many congressional Republicans in support of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Bowe testified before Congress on the issue Thursday. Obama has yet to announce a position on the pipeline—which would carry oil from Canada and the northern United States to the Gulf Coast—but faces pressure from environmentalists and others to reject the proposal.

Controversy over the pipeline has dogged the president on other unrelated trips. During a fundraising swing in California last month, the fact that the event was being hosted by pipeline opponent Tom Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire and environmentalist, drew pipeline protesters who sought to draw attention to the issue.

Obama made no references to the pipeline in his public remarks at Ellicott Dredges, but thanked Bowe—who gave the president a tour of the facility—for his work at the company.

Much of the president's speech echoed remarks he made last week in Texas, his first stop on the "Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour." While there he announced manufacturing competitions to create "manufacturing innovation institutes" in the United States.

As he did last week, Obama conceded that Washington may not appear to the public to be a place generating much positive news, but that there are things to celebrate about the economy, including rebounds in the housing market and gains in certain industry sectors.

His standard criticism of members of Congress (whom he has been publicly chastising for stalemates in Washington) appeared to be tempered by the attendance Friday of several Democratic leaders: Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, and Reps. Steny Hoyer, Paul Sarbanes and Elijah Cummings.

"All of your members of Congress every single day are working, fighting on your behalf in terms of making sure we're growing an economy that creates outstanding middle-class jobs," Obama said.

Prior to Ellicott, Obama stopped at Moravia Park Elementary School, where he sat in on a classroom lesson for 4- and 5-year-olds. Later, during his speech at Ellicott, he noted this visit and the goals behind his State of the Union proposal to create universal pre-kindergarten.

He was scheduled next to visit the Center for Urban Families, a nonprofit that aides fathers and families, for a roundtable discussion. That visit will be tied to his Promise Zone budget proposal to identify and assist hard-hit communities, according to the White House.

As the president left Washington earlier on Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee on Capitol Hill grilled the ousted acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Steven Miller, over recent revelations that the IRS targeted conservatives applying for tax-exempt status. After the allegations were confirmed Wednesday by the Treasury Department inspector general's report, Obama announced that Miller had been forced to resign.

That action came amid continued pressure on the administration to explain revisions made to talking points related to the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya—to which the White House responded Wednesday by releasing those emails to the media—and controversy surrounding the Department of Justice's secret seizure of Associated Press reporters' and editors' phone records in the investigation of a national security leak.