President Barack Obama will travel to Jacksonville on Thursday and deliver remarks at the Port Authority as part of a series of events scheduled to focus on the economy, the White House announced Monday.
The larger trip, which was announced last week shortly after the president spoke about racism in the wake of the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, is intended as part of a nationwide campaign aimed at emphasizing the administration's attempt to build the economy by boosting the middle class. But in Florida, the president's remarks also are likely to be viewed in the context of the racial issues festering since the Zimmerman verdict.
At his surprise visit to the White House briefing room last week, Obama called on states such as Florida to re-examine "stand your ground" laws and he invoked concerns that the laws may "encourage the kinds of altercations, confrontations and tragedies as we saw in the Florida case, rather than defuse potential altercations."
Since then, dozens of protesters continue a sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott's Tallahassee office, demanding the Legislature convene a special session to repeal the "stand your ground" law and address the disparities in sentencing for black teens. The governor and legislative leaders have said they oppose changing the law and refuse to call a session.
Obama will begin his "focus on the economy" tour in his home state of Illinois where he will deliver a major address at Knox College in western Illinois on Wednesday, the White House said.
Obama believes Washington "has taken its eye off the ball on the most important issue facing the country,'' said White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer in an email Sunday. The president will "lay out his vision for rebuilding an economy that puts the middle class and those fighting to join it front and center,'' he said.
Pfeiffer bashed the infighting that has paralyzed progress in Congress saying, "instead of talking about how to help the middle class, too many in Congress are trying to score political points, refight old battles and trump up phony scandals."
But Pfeiffer's comments supplied a convenient opening for the Republican Party of Florida, which launched an "Eye Off the Ball" series on its website Monday to chide the president.
"We, too, have noticed the president's lack of leadership on the economy," said Susan Hepworth, RPOF spokeswoman. The party has posted a mock-up of the president throwing a football and suggesting his speaking tour is "a Hail Mary pass on the economy."