Chief economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow was dispatched Thursday as the White House’s shutdown handyman, attempting to repair any damage done when two colleagues veered off message with gaffes about furloughed federal workers and potentially stagnant economic growth.
Democrats pounced for the second consecutive day on off-the-cuff remarks about the economic impacts of the partial government shutdown uttered by senior Trump administration officials. Both, Democrats said, painted the administration and its many wealthy members as out of touch with furloughed — and unpaid — federal workers taking steps to survive like visiting food banks.
Kevin Hassett on CNN Wednesday acknowledged the shutdown could produce zero percent economic growth in the first quarter of 2019. The next morning, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross spawned Democrats’ ire when he said this on CNBC after being asked about workers taking donated food: “I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why.”
“Because, as I mentioned before, the obligations that they would undertake, say borrowing from a bank or a credit union are in effect federally guaranteed,” Ross continued.
“I feel for that,” Kudlow told reporters in the White House briefing room after his own cable news hit. “I fret about the hardship” of furloughed workers, he added, then calling for a shutdown-ending deal “sooner rather than later.”
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The office of House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., issued a blast email criticizing Ross’s comment. “Here’s your shockingly out of touch Republican comment of the day (but it’s still early!). Perhaps this is why Republicans have yet to show any urgency to reopen the government?” his office wrote.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also criticized Ross’ remark during her weekly press conference. She said she “just doesn’t understand” how Ross could take that stance, and assessed the administration’s collective view of the furloughed workers’ plight as a “‘let them eat cake’ kind of attitude.”
Her comment appeared to confuse the president, who fired off a tweet several minutes later. It seemed that President Donald Trump thought she was referring to why Republicans refuse to provide votes for any shutdown-ending legislation that does not include funds for his southern border barrier.
Nancy just said she “just doesn’t understand why?” Very simply, without a Wall it all doesn’t work. Our Country has a chance to greatly reduce Crime, Human Trafficking, Gangs and Drugs. Should have been done for decades. We will not Cave!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2019
Those comments came after the top White House economic adviser tried to give Hassett cover during a Fox News interview by predicting a strong upcoming job report.
“The jobs report for January … will be up. And it may be up a significant amount,” Kudlow said. “It also suggests … that the economy is very strong.”
Kudlow said he expects that jobs data will be a “leading indicator of the economy — so they dropped from to 212,000 to 199,000. That’s a 13,000 drop. This is the first time since, get this, November 1969 that initial unemployment claims have fallen below 200,000.”
And he again predicted growth for the first quarter of the year above 3 percent, saying U.S. retail sales, manufacturing production and “business investment” figures all remain strong.
“Those are the actual numbers,” he contended.
Meantime, Kudlow said a coming round of trade talks with China will be “determinative,” but they won’t be “the end of the game” if they fail to produce a deal or substantial movement toward one.
“These were the broadest deepest in scope meetings on China U.S. trade ever,” he said as a deadline set by Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping for a sweeping deal approaches.
Unless a pact is in place in coming months, Trump says he will dramatically increase tariffs on billions of Chinese-made goods.
Global business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, over the weekend listed trade tensions as among their biggest worries as U.S. and global recession fears hang over the global economic picture like a black cloud.
“The scope of the talks are huge,” Kudlow said. “We have nothing on paper. There’s no contract. There’s no deal.”
His attempts at playing the role of White House messaging handyman also were aimed at the 2020 White House race. Trump has said he wants to keep the economy strong, as he views that as a top re-election fight selling point.