Sights and sounds of President Barack Obama's brief visit to three Baltimore sites. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun video)

President Barack Obama told several hundred people gathered at a Baltimore manufacturing plant on Friday that he would keep his administration focused on the economic recovery -- despite a series of political scandals that have rocked the administration in recent days.

Obama spoke at Ellicott Dredges in broad terms about lifting the middle class by investing in infrastructure. He pressed lawmakers on Capitol Hill to work together despite partisan gridlock that has stymied progress on economic initiatives proposed by either party, but he offered little in the way of new ideas to address unemployment. 

The president spoke to about 800 people at Ellicott Dredges at an event that drew most of the state’s elected leaders, including Gov. Martin O’Malley, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and most of the state’s congressional delegation.

“This should be our principal focus - how are we making ourselves more competitive, how are we training our workers so they can do the jobs that to be done?” Obama said. “I’m going to keep trying to work with both parties in Washington to make progress. Because our challenges are solvable.

“There’s gonna be disagreements about how we get there,” he said. “But let’s remind ourselves that when we work together, nobody can stop us.”

But the trip was overshadowed by the string of developing stories that have put the White House on the defense for much of the week, especially revelations that the Internal Revenue Service heaped additional scrutiny on conservative groups. The ousted head of the IRS, Steven Miller, was grilled during a hearing on Capitol Hill. 

Republicans, meanwhile, criticized the trip as a campaign event.

"The president talks a good game....but he never walks the walk on regulations," said Rep. Andy Harris, the state's sole Republican in Washington. "We've seen many promises before."

Before speaking, Obama toured Ellicott Dredge's facility in the Carroll–Camden Industrial Area. He was joined by the company’s president and CEO Peter Bowe and plant manager Robert Croom.

“I’m ready to dredge,” the president joked.

Obama ended his Baltimore swing by speaking with fathers who had been helped by the Center for Urban Families, a workforce development group that has connected thousands of fathers with stable employment.

Marcus Dixon, an alumni of the program, told the president how he came to the center shortly after getting out of jail. Now, Dixon said he’s attending Baltimore City Community College, picking up his prerequisites for pharmacology.

“It restored my dignity,” said Dixon, the father of two boys. “One of the greatest things they taught me was not to have a poor mind set.”

Obama noted that he grew up without a father, adding that it was “a hard situation” but said Dixon was setting a good example for his sons.

Obama arrived in Baltimore shortly before noon and visited Moravia Park Elementary School. About 30 pre-kindergarten students were assembled in the school's library.

The school is home to one of the state's Judy Centers, which offer early childhood education. The centers are named after Judith P. Hoyer, the late wife of Rep. Steny Hoyer, who attended the event.

"I just came by to say 'hi' because I hear you guys are doing all kinds of great work here," said the president, wearing rolled up sleeves.

"Does everybody enjoy school? So, what kinds of things have you been learning in school?" the president asked.

"About animals," one child said.

Obama quizzed the students on basic arithmetic before taking a seat to watch the lesson.