By Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg News–
President Donald Trump seized on the first federal jobs report of his presidency to promote a narrative of an invigorated economy that may strengthen his political position as he begins the drive to win passage of legislative priorities including an Obamacare replacement and a tax overhaul.
The president and his staff exalted in a 235,000 net increase in U.S. jobs during February, even making light of doubts Trump previously cast on government data showing employment improvements under President Barack Obama.
“He said to quote him very clearly,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had told him, “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”
“GREAT AGAIN: +235,000,” Trump posted on his Twitter account in a retweet of a Drudge Report headline on Friday minutes after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released payrolls data.
Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. president who’s now director of the National Economic Council, used the report as validation of Trump’s approach to bolstering the economy, which has included bringing in corporate executives to the White House to press them for hiring commitments and publicly scolding companies over plans to move production abroad.
“We’ve had many big announcements from CEOs,” Cohn said, basking in the “sunny” jobs numbers amid gray skies and rain in Washington. “Remember, those jobs are not in these numbers. Those jobs will come in the future — they’ll come three, six, 12 months from now. So we think there’s enormous demand for American workers built into the system.”
Spicer said the jobs report, in which the unemployment rate declined to 4.7 percent, was “great news.”
“Not a bad way to start day 50 of this Administration,” Spicer tweeted at 8:57 a.m.
With his tweet minutes after the data was released and before markets opened, Spicer may have run afoul of a federal rule barring executive branch employees from publicly commenting on economic indicators in the first hour after the numbers are published.
The rule, which was published in the Federal Register in 1985, says that “employees of the executive branch shall not comment publicly on the data until at least one hour after the official release time.” The White House gets the number before the release. It’s unclear whether Trump’s retweet of Drudge would be considered a comment, but his predecessors observed the rule.
Spicer, at his daily White House briefing, dismissed any concern about potentially violating the rule, which he claimed was instituted to avoid affecting financial markets. He said his and Trump’s tweets simply highlighted good news for the economy that already was being widely reported.
“I don’t think that’s exactly a market disruption,” Spicer said. “I apologize if we were a little excited” about so many Americans getting work.
Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration, said previous administrations from both parties abided by the one-hour rule. Obama occasionally changed his schedule to comply with it, he said.
“We would even inconvenience ourselves in the Obama administration,” he said in an email. “There were times that the president’s schedule was shifted, including (small) delays to flights taking off because he had to wait until 9:30 a.m. to comment on the data.”
The payroll increase in February was actually slightly lower than the same month the two prior years — jobs increased by 237,000 in February 2016 and by 238,000 in February 2015.
Yet the numbers were an improvement on 187,000 monthly average during the final year of Obama’s presidency and were greeted as a positive signal by investors, sending U.S. stocks up modestly at the session’s opening. The uptick faded, though, and the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up less than 0.1 percent at 12:54 p.m. New York time.
That was enough to reverse the prior skepticism Trump has shown for official federal employment data.
After the New Hampshire presidential primary last year, Trump said, “Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”
With the release of the jobs data in October 2012, just ahead of Obama’s re-election, Trump said: “I don’t believe the number and neither do any of the other people that have intelligence.”
Trump also released a video praising Exxon Mobil Corp. for announcing a $20 billion building spree that would create 45,000 jobs along the Gulf Coast. While the announcement dates back to plans the company was making as early as 2013, Trump took credit, saying it was a sign his policies were already working.
“I said we’re bringing back jobs,” he said in the March 6 video. “This is one big example of it.”