Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
BALTIMORE After a week of playing defense on a trio of scandals, President Obama escaped Washington on Friday in an attempt to turn attention back to his economic agenda.
While the House Ways and Means Committee spent the morning grilling ousted IRS acting commissioner Steven Miller about the agency's targeting of Tea Party and conservative non-profit groups, Obama spent his day in Charm City.
The president started his day in Baltimore with a visit to by an early education program to highlight his call for Congress to fund pre-kindergarten for low and moderate income family. He then visited a dredging manufacturer on the outskirts of this city to highlight his economic agenda and planned to visit a local community center.
"I don't want to interrupt the studying," Obama said on Monday after walking in on the re-kindergarten class at Moravia Park Elementary. "So I'm going to grab this chair right here. Come on. Let's focus."
Obama spent his time in classroom quizzing the children on their addition and subtraction and drawing pictures of animals with the children
"I got to say my tiger wasn't very good," Obama said later. "The kids weren't very impressed."
The light moment for the president comes at the end of a bruising week for him and his administration.
In addition to the IRS controversy, Obama has come under fire from Republicans in recent days after the release of internal e-mails showed that his senior aides and State Department officials edited out references to terrorism in early "talking points" put out by the administration following last year's terrorist attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya.
The Obama administration has also been battling with the fallout of the revelation from earlier this week that the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed phone records of Associated Press journalists as part a probe into the leak of classified information.
Despite the wave of bad news for the White House, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who traveled to Baltimore with Obama on Friday, said the president was "at ease."
"He's doing exactly the right thing, focusing on the substance," Hoyer said.
On Thursday evening, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough met with a dozen Democratic strategists to talk about moving beyond the controversies and get back to pushing the president's economic agenda.
On Friday afternoon, Obama visited Ellicot Dredges, a Baltimore company that manufactures dredges and dredging equipment that are exported around the globe. Obama announced during a speech at the company that he's signed a presidential memorandum that will cut in half the permitting process on federal infrastructure projects.
But the office of House Speaker John Boehner noted the president's visit to the dredging manufacturer highlights another sensitive topic for the Obama administrationthe pending decision on permitting the Keystone XL pipeline.
Peter Bowe, the president of Ellicot Dredges, testified before a House subcommittee on Thursday that the proposed pipeline that would bring tar sands oil from northwest Canada to the Gulf of Mexico would be a boon for companies like his.
"For us, it's all about jobs, not construction jobs for the pipeline itself, but ongoing jobs every year for decades to come, all related to the production of oil from the Alberta oil sands deposits," Bowe said in his prepared remarks.
Obama rejected rapid approval of the pipeline last year as he faced pressure from environmental groups who say the pipeline and the carbon-heavy oil are risky for the environment. Republican lawmakers have pushed for the administration to approve the pipeline, which they contend will create jobs and help reduce American dependence on Middle East oil.
The State Departmentwhich has approval authority over the project-- is to make a decision on a new permit application on Keystone, perhaps, as early as later this year.
Obama didn't address Keystone or make any mention of Benghazi or the IRS controversies directly, but he also made clear that he's trying to move beyond the scandals.
"Others may be focused on chasing every fleeting issue that passes by, but the middle class will always be my number one focus," Obama said. "Your jobs. Your families. Your communities. That's why I ran for the president."