WASHINGTON – Besieged by protesters and the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump embraced a celebratory tone Friday as he cast better-than-expected jobs numbers as a sign the U.S. economy is poised for major comeback.
Trump announced the Rose Garden event minutes after the Labor Department reported the economy unexpectedly gained 2.5 million jobs in May following record losses because of the virus. After weeks of tough headlines, the president embraced the jobs news and touted his efforts to pressure states to reopen their economies.
“This is a rocket ship,” said Trump, who at times sounded as if he was speaking at one of his buoyant campaign rallies. “We made a big step in our comeback.”
Trump also signed bipartisan legislation Friday to loosen regulations for the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans and grants to small businesses to retain their employees. Among other things, the law will allow businesses to spread out the proceeds from loans to 24 weeks rather than an eight-week period initially approved.
Trump, who has pressured governors to ease lock downs, is putting his stewardship of the economy at the center of his reelection message. Trump’s event Friday came as polls show his support has slipped in some battleground states. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is also scheduled to speak on the economy Friday.
Democrats described Trump’s celebratory event as premature.
“With nearly 20M people out of work and unemployment among African Americans increasing, now’s not the time to be complacent or take a victory lap,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted.
The event marked a big shift in messaging and tone for the White House, which has felt under siege for days. Trump has largely remained out of public view since a controversial decision to clear a park near the White House of protesters peacefully demonstrating over the death of George Floyd. Trump strolled across the park on Monday and held a Bible for news cameras at a historic church.
Since then, Trump has confronted open splits with Defense Secretary Mark Esper over the use of active-duty troops to address the protests in cities across the country and a blistering denunciation by his former Defense secretary, James Mattis.
Trump touched on the protesters that have gathered outside the White House for days calling attention to Floyd, the African American man who died in police custody last week in Minneapolis. Trump castigated governors he said have not called in the National Guard to quell riots and looting that has taken place in some cities.
“Don’t be proud. Get the job done,” Trump said, speaking directly to the nation’s governors and echoing remarks he made in a phone call last week. “You have to dominate the streets.”
Trump referred to Floyd, saying that “hopefully” he was “looking down right now” and thinking “this is a great thing that’s happening for our country.”
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3% from April’s 14.7%, which was the highest since the Great Depression, according to the new Labor Department report.
“The biggest payroll surprise in history, by a gigantic margin, likely is due to a wave of hidden rehiring,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics.
Contributing: Paul Davidson