The president's re-election campaign has been in a rough patch lately. A bleak jobs report last week showed the economy added just 69,000 jobs in May and the unemployment rate ticked up slightly.
"Are you kidding?" asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "Did he see the job numbers that came out last week? The private sector is not doing fine."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential Romney running mate, took his turn addressing conservatives assembled in Chicago to mock Obama.
"The private sector is so foreign to him he might need a passport to go visit," Jindal said. "He might need a translator to talk to people in the private sector."
The episode also followed Republican Gov. Scott Walker's victory in a Democratic-led, union-backed recall effort in Wisconsin, and Romney's lead over Obama in May fundraising. Romney's campaign and the Republican National Committee said Thursday they had raised more than $76 million combined in May, surpassing the $60 million haul by the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Later in the day, Obama's campaign tried to seize on what it saw as Romney's misstep when the former governor said in Iowa that Obama "says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It's time for us to cut back on government and help the American people." Obama's campaign equated it with Romney calling for further job loss.
During the news conference, Obama pointed to Republicans in Congress for holding up portions of his jobs bill, which he said could have led to 1 million more jobs this year if it had been passed in full.
"The private sector is doing fine," Obama said. Economic weakness is coming from state and local government, with job cuts initiated by "governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don't have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in."
He said that if Republicans really want to put people back to work, "what they should be thinking about is how do we help state and local governments and how do we help the construction industry."
Elliott reported from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Associated Press writers Paul Wiseman, Christopher S. Rugaber and Tom Raum in Washington and Brian Bakst in Chicago contributed to this report.
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