WASHINGTON, June 8 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama denounced "offensive" claims that his administration leaked sensitive material for political gain and said he doesn't tolerate leaks.
Obama bristled when asked at a news conference Friday about allegations the White House was responsible for leaking classified information to help his re-election effort.
"The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It's wrong," Obama said. "[People] I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how people around me approach this office."
Obama took a swipe at congressional Republicans as he pushed for consideration of his jobs package from last year as a way to help protect the United States from fallout from Europe's financial crisis.
"Right now, people in this town should be focused on doing everything we can to keep our recovery going and keeping our country strong," Obama said a week after the U.S. Labor Department reported the unemployment rate rose in May to 8.2 percent after declining for several months.
There's no excuse for Congress not acting on legislation that would put construction workers, teachers, police and firefighters back to work, Obama said. His proposals also would give tax breaks to small businesses that boost hiring and make it easier for homeowners who are up-to-date on their mortgage payments to refinance at lower interest rates.
If Republicans drag their feet "simply because it's an election year," Obama said, "they should explain to the American people why."
Republican members of Congress have called for an investigation into whether the White House was responsible for national security leaks.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday he wanted hearings and a special prosecutor named to determine whether the White House leaked information for political gain.
"Over the past few months, there's been a disturbing stream of articles in the media," McCain said. "In common among them is that they cite leaked classified or highly sensitive information in what appears to be a broader administration effort to paint a portrait of the president of the United States as a strong leader on national security issues."
A visibly angry Obama said issues that touch on national security or war and peace are classified for a reason.
"They're sensitive," he said.
When sensitive information is leaked, it can jeopardize the lives of people carrying out the missions as well as make "the jobs of folks on the front lines tougher."
Obama said he has "zero tolerance" for those types of leaks and anyone found to have leaked information "will suffer consequences."
"We don't play" issues that touch on the safety and security of the American people, its military or U.S. allies, he said.
On economic matters, Obama said the weakest sectors were construction and state and local government hiring.
"If Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and 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," he said.
Turning to Europe, Obama said the financial crisis across the Atlantic has a rippling effect on the U.S. economy and he urged Congress to pass jobs initiatives he introduced to help protect the United States.
The situation in Europe is important because it is America's largest economic trading partner, Obama said.
"The good news is there's a path out of this challenge," he said.
Obama said he and key members of his administration were in frequent communication with leaders from across the Atlantic Ocean.
Concerning Greece, Obama said it was in "everybody's interest" that the country stay in the eurozone. While recognizing the sacrifices Greeks have made, Obama said Greeks also needed to recognize "their hardships will be worse" if the country exits the eurozone.
The challenges Europe faces "are solvable," Obama said, emphasizing that the focus must be on strengthening its banking system while trying to achieve economic growth.
The president said the United States can support, push, prod, suggest and advise but ultimately "they're decisions they have to make."