President Obama vowed Tuesday to take more unilateral executive action to bypass Congress, and there’s fresh evidence that Democratic lawmakers in this election year would just as soon avoid the president, too.

“I’ve got a pen, and … I’ve got a phone,” Mr. Obama said at his first Cabinet meeting of the year at the White House. “And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward” to help middle-class families.

With Mr. Obama’s economic agenda stalled in the House, the president will demonstrate his executive authority Wednesday during a trip to North Carolina State University. Mr. Obama will promote “a new public-private effort to boost advanced manufacturing,” according to senior presidential adviser Dan Pfeiffer.

But the trip is already proving to be a mild embarrassment to the White House due to the expected absence of Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, who is facing a tough re-election campaign this year and whose poll numbers suggest she has been hurt by her support of Mr. Obama’s troubled new health care law. Mrs. Hagan’s office said she will stay in Washington because the Senate is in session, an excuse that a CNN reporter at the White House daily press briefing likened to “the congressional equivalent of ‘I can’t go, I’m washing my hair.’”