11 01 2014
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Friday's White House news conference is likely to be an exercise in what President Barack Obama wants to talk about -- his economic message -- and what he feels he has to talk about -- terrorism and the U.S.-Russia relationship -- before he leaves Washington for a family vacation.

For the last few weeks, Obama has traversed the country to push his economic message that the White House says will be its focus going into the fall. And if the White House had its way, that's how Obama would open the news conference.

"The White House is itching for this fight over the economy," said Candy Crowley, CNN's chief political correspondent.

But it has been more than three month since the president took questions from reporters in the White House briefing room, and much has transpired since then, including Russia accepting the asylum request of NSA leaker Edward Snowden and closing embassies in Africa, the Middle East and Asia because of a heightened terror threat.

If he headed out to his Martha's Vineyard vacation without addressing the issues, "it would be seen as a mistake," Crowley said. "The most immediate topic, I think, on his plate, has got to be what's going on in terms of terrorism and the closing of the embassies."

Last week, officials shuttered 22 U.S. embassies and consulates for the day on Sunday amid fears of an al Qaeda attack. On Sunday afternoon, the State Department said it had extended embassy and consulate closures in 15 of the locations until Friday and later added four other posts to the list. The decision was seen as unprecedented from many in the diplomacy and intelligence communities.

Even in light of the terrorism warning and shuttered embassies, however, the White House stuck with its economic message this week, much as it has done in prior speeches.

In his first speech in the economic refocusing series in Galesburg, Illinois, in July, Obama pledged he would use the rest his presidency advocating for working-class Americans. "The one thing I care about is how to use every minute of the remaining 1,276 days of my term to make this country work for working Americans again," he said to a cheering crowd. "That's all I care about. I don't have another election."

A few days later, this time in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Obama proposed a "grand bargain" with Republicans, saying he would cut corporate tax rates -- something Republicans have long supported -- if the GOP would agree to bolster the country's manufacturing sector and network of community colleges by investing in each.

Republicans have panned these speeches. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the economic refocus caused "a collective bipartisan eye roll," while House Speaker John Boehner called the refocus "an Easter Egg with no candy in it."

The news conference is another opportunity for Obama to push his economic agenda while Congress is away.

"I think he wants to set the table for the big fights in the fall, and he's been doing that out on the road, and here is a chance for him to do it in the White House briefing room," Crowley said.

After Congress returns to Washington after its five-week summer recess, one of the first things lawmakers must do is fund the government past September 30, when the 2013 fiscal calendar ends. Because of marked differences between the House and Senate on spending, that is expected to be a major fight.

On top of that, most budget experts expect that the debt ceiling -- the limit on the amount of national debt the United States is allowed to carry -- will need to be raised sometime between mid-October and mid-November.

The lines are drawn -- Obama told Democrats on Capitol Hill last week that he won't negotiate on the debt ceiling, and some Republicans, like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have threatened to shut down the government over the debt ceiling and budget bills as a way to continue their attack on Obamacare.

"There are some Democrats, some in the media and some Republicans who portray a shutdown as a horrible calamity," Cruz said at a recent Heritage Foundation speech. "I think the term 'shutdown' is a misnomer. It's actually a partial, temporary shutdown. We have seen them before."

And then there is Russia's harboring of Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked government secrets to the media. Obama has commented on the ongoing issue but has not made a public statement on the country's decision to grant Snowden temporary asylum.

Earlier this week, the White House canceled a much-discussed visit to Moscow next month for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing a lack of progress in bilateral relations since Putin regained the presidency a year ago. Although the president will still travel to Russia, he will not meet directly with Putin.

White House officials acknowledge that Russia's decision to grant Snowden asylum was a factor in the decision.

Obama has faced criticism for not being tougher with Russia in the past, but as Crowley points out, the country is too important on a number of issues to ignore.

"One of his (Obama's) legacies is that he would like to bring down those nuclear arsenals," Crowley said. "You can't do that unless the other person's at the table, and that's Russia."

CNN's Candy Crowley, Elise Labott and CNNMoney's Jeanne Sahadi contributed to this report.

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