President Obama in North Carolina for a manufacturing event Wednesday had a clear message for Republicans back in Washington: “Do the right thing” and extend jobless benefits for 1.3 million Americans.

The president hailed the creation of a new manufacturing institute in Raleigh, N.C., but the battle over unemployment insurance in the nation's capital followed the president on the road.

“North Carolina still has a higher than average unemployment rate,” Obama said on the campus of North Carolina State University. “This is important to this state. Folks aren’t looking for a handout.”

On Tuesday, the Senate blocked a measure that would have extended for at least three months unemployment benefits that expired in December.

Obama is using the clash as part of a broader economic argument to paint Republicans as out of touch with those struggling to find work.

The president told the crowd of mostly college students, that like the manufacturing institute, he would pursue other executive actions to jump-start the economy.

“Where I can act on my own, without Congress, I'm going to do so,” he vowed.

Obama’s State of the Union address Jan. 28 will include a slate of such proposals, the White House said.

Yet Republicans counter that Obama should focus on his own party. The White House has run into resistance from Democrats on free-trade agreements the president would like to pursue.

“House Republicans and the president both support passing bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority legislation,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “With the bill introduced last week, the only remaining obstacle is congressional Democrats.”

Republicans also pounced on the political symbolism of the president's speech. Democratic North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, facing re-election this year, did not travel with Obama back to her home state -- Republicans say the vulnerable Democrat did not want to be tied to the president ahead of a toss-up election.

Still, Obama gave a shout out to Hagan.

“Your senator, Kay Hagan, couldn't be here,” Obama told the crowd. “But I wanted to thank her — publicly — for the great work she's been doing."