WASHINGTON (AP) - The economy at risk, President Barack Obama accused Republicans on Friday of pursuing policies that would weaken the U.S. recovery, and he simultaneously urged Europe's leaders to prevent an overseas debt crisis from dragging down the rest of the world.
Obama, seeking to clarify comments about the strength of the U.S. economy, said later Friday it is "absolutely clear" that the U.S. economy is "not doing fine."
Obama spoke hours after saying in a White House news conference that "the private sector is doing fine."
Republicans pounced on those comments, saying they showed Obama had a lack of understanding about the nation's economic woes.
The president said later he knows the economy "needs to be strengthened." He says that while there has been some "good momentum" in the private sector, Congress needs to act to help boost jobs in the public sector.
He says there is no good reason why Congress won't act on his public sector proposals "other than politics."
Mitt Romney says Obama's statement that the "private sector is doing fine" will "go down in history" as an extraordinary miscalculation by an out-of-touch president.
In Iowa, Romney pounced on the comments Obama made during a White House news conference on Friday. Romney says Obama's remarks led him to ask: "Is he really that out of touch?"
Romney says Obama is "defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people." Romney's aides say his campaign will continue to give Obama grief on the matter.
The comment revived memories of a statement Republican nominee John McCain made in 2008, during the economic turmoil, that the economy's fundamentals were sound.
Obama's tone was markedly different when it came to European leaders, whom he prodded to inject money into the banking system. He also cautioned Greece that withdrawing from the eurozone would mean even greater economic difficulty than the austerity steps already undertaken.
"The solutions to these problems are hard, but there are solutions," he said.
The president spoke after several days of difficult turns for his re-election prospects, including last Friday's report that the unemployment rate had risen slightly to 8.2 percent in May as job creation had slowed, and new signs that the European debt crisis was hurting the U.S. economy.
In the overtly political realm, Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker turned back a recall movement led by organized labor, while former President Bill Clinton stirred controversy by saying Obama should be ready to sign a short-term extension of all expiring tax cuts - including those that apply to the wealthiest taxpayers that the president has vowed not to renew.
Obama's opening remarks were part jawboning and part economics lesson.
He stressed the importance of a strong European economy, saying, "If there's less demand for our products in places like Paris or Madrid it could mean less business for manufacturers in places like Pittsburgh or Milwaukee."
The president said that if Congress had passed the jobs bill he submitted last fall, one million more Americans would be working than are now.
"Of course Congress refused to pass this jobs plan in full," he said dismissively. "They left most of the jobs plan just sitting there, and in light of the headwinds we are facing right now I urge them to reconsider because there are steps we can take right now."
The president said U.S. companies actually have been creating jobs at a faster clip than they did after the previous recession while state and local governments have been shedding them.
"Where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy is in the state and local governments, often times cuts initiated by governors or mayor who are not getting the kind of help they got in the past from the federal government," he said.
"If Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work," they should enact legislation to permit the hiring of more teachers and law enforcement personnel, he said.
The president's attack was part of his campaign playbook in an election in which the economy is the top issue. Republican rival Mitt Romney is campaigning for the White House as better equipped to created jobs, and polls make the race a close one, with only about a dozen battleground states in dispute.