On defense over the defining issue of his reelection fight, President Barack Obama clarified Friday that "the economy is not doing fine" and accused Republicans of playing "political games" by turning his own earlier words against him.
Obama had triggered the onslaught a few hours beforehand by telling reporters that "the private sector is doing fine" and that "where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy" is in cash-strapped states and cities that are cutting jobs for teachers, firefighters, police and other workers.
Republicans, including Mitt Romney, pounced on the remark, saying it showed the president was out of touch.
So, in a brief photo opportunity, Obama revisited the issue.
"It is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine. That's the reason I had the press conference," said the president, who had called reporters together to press Congress to pass his stalled jobs program.
"That's why I spent yesterday, the day before yesterday, this past week, this past month, and this past year talking about how we can make the economy stronger," he said.
"The economy is not doing fine. There are too many people out of work. The housing market is still weak and too many homes underwater. And that's precisely why I asked Congress to start taking some steps that can make a difference," Obama said. But he also insisted that "we've actually seen some good momentum in the private sector."
And the president renewed his criticisms of Republicans, underlining their rejection of his jobs plan. "Now, you can't give me a good reason as to why Congress would not act on these items other than politics -- because these are traditionally ideas that Democrats and Republicans have supported," he said.
"And one of the things that people get so frustrated about is that instead of actually talking about what would help, we get wrapped up in these political games. That's what we need to put an end to," he said. (One little problem there: The Obama campaign of 2008 had happily turned Republican Senator John McCain's similar goof against him in an ad. The RNC mimicked that commercial on Friday.
Obama pushed Romney to detail steps he would "take right now that are going to make an actual difference." "All we've heard are additional tax cuts to the folks who are doing fine, as opposed to take steps that would actually help," he said.