WAYNE, Michigan (AP) — President Barack Obama opened a tour through three states Wednesday aimed at claiming credit for recent economic growth and blunting the momentum of the new Republican congressional leadership.

Obama's road trip comes amid a surprising burst of momentum for the White House following Democrats' disastrous showing in the midterm elections, when Republicans won control of the Senate and expanded their majority in the House. Alongside signs of economic progress, the president has also unveiled a series of aggressive executive actions and seen his low approval ratings start to creep up.

"We are entering into the new year with new confidence that America is coming back," Obama declared at a Ford plant in Michigan, a state at the center of both the downturn and rejuvenation of the U.S. automobile industry.

The president has talked optimistically about opportunities to cooperate with congressional Republicans on issues like trade and tax reform. But big clashes between the White House and the new Republican leadership will come first.

The White House has threatened to veto two priority pieces of legislation for the Republican Party: a bill approving construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and another measure that could increase the health care law's definition of a full-time worker from 30 to 40 hours per week.

"It seems with every new day we have a new veto threat from the president," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday. Obama and congressional leaders scheduled their first meeting of the new year for Tuesday.

In an effort to counteract the veto threats with new ideas, the White House plans to use the coming weeks to outline proposals the president will discuss in his Jan. 20 State of the Union address.

The president said his State of the Union address would focus on what steps the country needs to take over his final years in office to capitalize on recent economic gains. While the economic recovery has been uneven throughout much of Obama's presidency, there have been recent surges in growth fueled by hiring gains, falling gas prices and rising consumer confidence.

The president cast his 2009 federal bailout of the auto industry as a key decision that helped set the recovery in motion. After spending $80 billion to bail out Chrysler and General Motors, the government reported last month that it had recouped nearly $71 billion of that investment. Ford was not part of the federal bailout.

From frigid Michigan, where the temperatures barely got above zero degrees, Obama was headed to Phoenix, a city that has served as a symbol of both of the housing market's crash and its slow recovery.

Obama returns to Washington Thursday night, then will hit the road again Friday. He'll travel to Tennessee, where he is expected to tout the state's new policy to pay for community college tuition.

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Associated Press writer Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this report.

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