Politics Now

Obama to hit the road, selling economic progress

President Obama is planning a national tour to tout his administration's economic accomplishments

President Obama is heading back to Washington on Saturday after a two-week holiday visit to Hawaii, but he won't stick around for long.

Eager to stay on the offensive as new Republican majorities are seated in Congress, the president plans to take a more bullish economic message on the road next week in something of an early test drive of his State of the Union message.

During stops in Michigan, Arizona and Tennessee, Obama plans to draw a connection between actions his administration took early in his presidency and increasingly positive economic trends in sectors such as manufacturing and housing.

Officials say he'll also offer specific new proposals -- some that he'll pursue with Congress and others he'll advance with his own authority -- that are intended to build on that progress, particularly for the middle class.

It's an approach that upends the traditional White House script to start the year, when new policy rollouts are usually reserved for the president's annual address to Congress.

But the White House is eager to sustain momentum  it says started to build after November with major actions on immigration and Cuba as Obama began what he calls the "fourth quarter" of his presidency.

The new Congress convenes Tuesday, with a new Republican Senate majority and the largest GOP House majority since 1931. Though incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged to seek common ground with the president on areas such as trade and tax reform, Senate Republicans' first order of business will be to advance legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The House plans to take up jobs-related legislation it passed in the previous Congress but that the Democratic-led Senate declined to consider.

"If the president is willing to work with us, we'll have a real chance to address our nation's most pressing challenges," Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said in the Republicans' weekly address.

But behind the scenes, GOP leaders are plotting new efforts to take on the president's healthcare law and target other administration actions on the environment and immigration.

The White House sees an immediate political opportunity there and hopes to contrast a president offering new initiatives that build on past successes with a GOP intent on undoing them.

In the Detroit area on Wednesday, Obama will discuss an auto industry that has boomed since the administration's 2009 rescue plan. He'll then return to Phoenix, where he first announced steps to address the post-recession foreclosure crisis, to announce new steps to boost homeownership.

And on Friday he will be joined by Vice President Joe Biden in Tennessee to discuss programs to expand access to college and worker training programs.

"The president is eager to get to work, and looks forward to working with the new Congress on policies that will make sure middle-class Americans are sharing in the economic recovery," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. "There are a number of issues we could make progress on, but the president is clear that he will not let this Congress undo important protections gained, particularly in areas of healthcare, Wall Street reform and the environment."

The new approach outlined by White House officials is the kind of effort that many congressional Democrats said they were hoping for as the party tries to regroup after major midterm losses.

"They've been too reluctant in my view to promote the good things that they're doing," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said in an interview this week. "They get sometimes frustrated when their friends and colleagues don't go out and promote [them]. But he's got the biggest bully pulpit that anyone has, and it's much more likely that he will have supporters promoting the positives if he himself does it."

Obama is scheduled to leave Hawaii on Saturday evening after 15 days in his birth state, much of it spent on the golf course with friends or on the beach with his wife and daughters. As the president has recharged, his approval rating has begun to tick up, hitting 48% for the first time since August 2013 in Gallup's tracking poll.

Follow @mikememoli for more news out of Washington.

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