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Obama Tries To Refocus On Agenda In Md. Visit

Baltimore — President Obama insisted yesterday that he is focused on improving the lives of middle-class Americans, despite being buffeted in Washington by a trio of controversies that have threatened to distract him from his second-term agenda.

Capping one of the most difficult weeks of his tenure, Obama left the Beltway for this city 40 miles north to try to change the subject from the problems of his administration and refocus attention on his efforts to create middle-class jobs.

He toured an elementary school, manufacturing plant and community center.

“I know it can seem frustrating sometimes when it seems like Washington’s priorities aren’t the same as your priorities,” Obama told a crowd at the Ellicott Dredges facility.

The president seemed to be relieved to be out of Washington and on more friendly terrain — a campaign-style event with supporters, including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md..

It was a far different scene from a day earlier, when Obama stood in the rain in the Rose Garden and answered questions about whether it was fair that his administration was being compared to that of President Richard Nixon’s and whether he still had confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder.

Away from Pennsylvania Avenue, Obama seemed eager to blame Congress for standing in his way.

He began to suggest that lawmakers had not funded his priorities in high-tech development: “We’ve had some trouble out of Congress. . .” when someone in the audience hooted.

“I know, it’s surprising, isn’t it?” Obama said sarcastically.

Hoyer, who accompanied Obama, said the president appeared “at ease” during the tour.

The president said he worked on a drawing lesson at Moravia Park Elementary, sketching a tiger.

“The kids were not impressed,”Obama joked. “They kind of looked at it, they said, that doesn’t look like a tiger.”

Hoyer, the House minority whip, said the president was smart to “focus on substance” in order to get past the controversies in Washington.

“It’s a distraction,” Hoyer said of the problems facing the administration. “It’s a purposeful distraction because Republicans do not have consensus. And the result of having no consensus is that you have no agenda, so you’re distracting the American public and focusing on things like that.”

This was the second stop on the president’s “Middle Class Jobs & Opportunity Tours,” which started last week in Austin, Texas.

In Baltimore, he announced he has signed a memorandum to modernize the federal infrastructure-permitting process to speed up projects, which he said would help get more unemployed workers back on the job.

But even at the Ellicott Dredges plant, Obama couldn’t escape the partisan politics of Washington. The company’s owner, Peter Bowe, who accompanied the president on the factory tour, had testified a day earlier in Congress in support of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, which Republicans have said will create jobs.

Many Democrats oppose the project on environmental grounds, and the Obama administration is expected to issue a ruling on the pipeline in the coming months.

As he wrapped up his remarks, Obama urged the crowd to “keep plugging away, keep fighting, and we’ll build an even better America.”

“We’re praying!” someone in the audience shouted.

“And we can pray, too,” the president concurred. “We’ll add that in there.”