By Jennifer Loven
AP White House Correspondent
Washington — Jobs, jobs, jobs.
If there’s any path out of the mess President Barack Obama found himself in on the first day of his second year in office, more aggressive promotion of the administration’s economy-boosting efforts — coupled with criticism of the Republican approach — is the one he has settled on.
The White House in the new year already had begun focusing greater attention on the nation’s angst and anger over a range of economic issues, including unemployment persisting near 10 percent, government expansion, Wall Street excesses and federal deficits.
Officials said Wednesday that 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.
“If the dominant message isn’t about jobs and spending, we’ll be making a difficult challenge exponentially more difficult,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said.
In his daily closed-door meeting with senior advisers Wednesday, Obama had moved on from the anger over the Massachusetts election debacle to a get-it-done demeanor, a senior administration official said.
The president told staff they had accomplished a lot in the year since he took office and that he was more hopeful about the economy now than then. But he said much more must be done and he directed them to get to it, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk about private meetings.
In a first-year anniversary interview with ABC News, Obama acknowledged that he had made a mistake in not making his aims clear to the American public — a failure he already had planned to correct but which now had become more imperative.
“We were so busy getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people,” Obama said. “I think the assumption was, if I just focus on policy … that people will get it. And I think that, you know, what they’ve ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment.”
Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs conceded that the White House allowed confusion over the health care proposals to persist and to drown out the administration’s economic efforts — all playing a role in stoking the kind of voter anger that was a factor in Democrat Martha Coakley’s defeat in Massachusetts.
“That anger is now pointed at us because we’re in charge,” Gibbs said. “And rightly so.”