(CNN) — President Barack Obama first said it two weeks ago during an impromptu walk from the White House to the Interior Department and then again during a quick coffee run to Starbucks just last Monday.
“The bear is loose,” he said.
And now he’s modified his new-found catch phrase. At a town hall event in Minnesota on Thursday, he added for emphasis: “I’m feeling super loose today.”
More than five years into his presidency, with its bubble-like quality that insulates office-holders from both security threats and opposing points of view, Obama has a sudden urge to free himself from the White House gates and the Beltway noise.
In other words, it’s becoming clear what this bear wants — not an escape back to the wilderness, but some quality time with spectators standing just outside the fence.
“Look, I’ve been really looking forward to getting out of D.C.,” Obama told the town hall crowd. “With Secret Service, I always tease them that I’m like a caged bear and every once in a while, I’ve got to break loose.”
That means breaking loose to a Chipotle, as the President did earlier this week, famously reaching over the sneeze guard, breaching another barrier between him and everyday Americans.
After initially characterizing the fast food stops and walks as a president working through a little cabin fever, White House spokesman Josh Earnest hinted at a desire to reconnect with voters.
“He is looking for as many opportunities as he can to try to get some access and some insight into what are the challenges that people are facing,” Earnest said.
That hunger to engage with voters was evident in Obama’s comments on Thursday.
After fielding more than an hour of town hall questions ranging from gun control to pay for federal workers, Obama vented his own anger with Washington.
“We’ve got a Congress that’s dysfunctional, I’ll be honest with you. You’ve got a party on the other side whose only rationale, motivation seems to be opposing me,” Obama said.
But with several recent public opinion polls finding the President’s approval ratings approaching record lows, the “bear” is not the popular exhibit he once was in the nation’s political zoo.
“The more President Obama gets out and spends time with real people, the more it highlights the dysfunction in Washington,” former deputy White House senior adviser Stephanie Cutter, a CNN political analyst, said about his trips beyond the bubble.
“I guarantee you, no one is talking about John Boehner’s lawsuit,” Cutter added in reference to the Republican House speaker’s threat to sue Obama over his uses of executive power without consulting Congress.
“But they are talking about what the President has done with his own authority to lower the cost of student loans, make work pay and other things he’s done,” she said.
Describing himself as no regular viewer of television news, Obama also accused the media of ignoring the issues that matter most to voters, in favor of partisan rancor and sensational headlines.
“That must feel frustrating, and makes people feel cynical, and it makes people feel turned off to the idea that anything can get done,” Obama said.
During his two-day trip to Minnesota, Obama spent a few hours with Rebekah Erler, who wrote a letter to him lamenting her struggles to make ends meet.
Obama and Erler sat down for lunch before the town hall meeting and other stops for ice cream and groceries prior to his fundraiser Thursday night.
Obama told the town hall audience that he ran for office because of people like Erler, whose difficulties, he insisted, mirrored his own as a young man.
“I don’t want you to ever forget that and I don’t want you to be cynical. Cynicism is popular these days but hope is better,” Obama said, echoing the themes that launched his political career, before the White House fences started closing in on him.