Officials said that shift will intensify now, an acknowledgment that Tuesday's stunning Senate election of Republican Scott Brown in the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts requires at least some course correction in Obama's still-young presidency.
Brown's election to the seat that had been held by Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy meant the end of a filibuster-proof majority for Obama's party in the Senate and suddenly imperiled passage of the president's marquee domestic agenda item — a sweeping health care overhaul. It also leaves the fate of other key Obama priorities unclear and prompted a series of questions about the president's political judgment, clout and popularity.
Obama and his top aides huddled with each other and Capitol Hill allies throughout Wednesday to plot how to rescue the health care legislation and to start mapping a way forward leading into this fall's midterm congressional elections.
Their conclusion was that the economy — jobs specifically and the broader topics of the nation's fiscal and financial health — must be priority No. 1.
Among the ideas Obama has already proposed to generate jobs and will promote:
- New spending for highway and bridge construction.
- Tax cuts for small businesses that increase their payrolls.
- Money to retrofit millions of homes to be more energy-efficient and create "green" jobs.
- Funds to help state and local governments avert layoffs of public-sector employees.
Using most but not all of Obama's approach, House Democrats adopted a $174 billion bill. But it passed only barely —and the deficit-financed measure faces a tougher road in the Senate.
In the coming weeks, Obama also will talk regularly about other plans, some old, some new: on deficit reduction, increasing access to capital for small businesses, boosting exports and help for working families, said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe private planning.
Obama was expected to try out his retooled message first on Thursday, at a White House event on the financial regulatory overhaul that is his next big legislative push. On Friday, he travels to recession-battered Ohio for a town hall meeting on the economy.
The economy and jobs also will be a major theme of Obama's State of the Union address next Wednesday night, as well as during the travel officials say he will embark upon afterward to pitch his proposals, and in the budget proposal he submits to Congress in February.
But while Obama will directly address the Massachusetts election results and what they mean in his State of the Union speech, Gibbs said, the second-year blueprint Obama plans to outline will look much like it was planned to before Tuesday. In other words, the White House believes its main problem is its sales job, not its product.
In his daily closed-door meeting with senior advisers Wednesday, Obama had moved on from anger over the Massachusetts election debacle to a get-it-done demeanor, a senior administration official said.