White House

August is ‘quirky’: Trump’s top economic adviser brushes off disappointing jobs report

Data offers Americans ‘little comfort,’ Pelosi says, warning of president's ‘reckless agenda’

President Donald Trump speaks while flanked by Director of the National Economic Council Lawrence Kudlow during an event for American workers in the State Dining Room of the White House in October. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

Lawrence Kudlow, President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, shrugged off a disappointing jobs report by saying August “is always a quirky month.”

Nonfarm payrolls added 130,000 jobs last month, about 20,000 less than most Wall Street estimates — a figure made further concerning because it was boosted by 25,000 temporary government hires in anticipation of the 2020 census. What’s more, total construction activity for July was $1.29 trillion, down 2.7 percent compared with July 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Friday. The decline was led by a 6.6 percent drop in residential construction.

But Kudlow, a self-described perennial economic optimist, called the jobs growth “a very solid number,” as he offered the White House’s explanation for coming in under experts’ expectations.

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“August is always a quirky month,” he told CNBC, saying the number of added jobs “comes in too low for seasonal reasons, and then it’s revised up.”

The White House is highlighting several aspects of the August report to support its claim, which Trump himself makes almost every day, that the U.S. economy is humming and the envy of the world. One is what Kudlow called an increase in the civilian labor force.

“The civilian labor force increased by 571,000. This is … the third straight month,” he said. “The average is 425,000. These are people … they’re coming out of the woodwork and they’re coming back to work.”

He called that figure “an unbelievable blowout number,” adding with the panache of a former cable new host: “America is working. … American workers are getting paid.”

Kudlow contended the economy’s “potential” growth rate could breach 3 percent soon, a goal he and Trump long have touted and promised.

Democratic presidential candidates and lawmakers acknowledge the economy remains strong, but they claim wages are not rising for middle- and lower-class workers while salaries for the highest earners are climbing.

“The August jobs report offers little comfort in an economy faltering under the Trump Administration’s reckless agenda to undermine the health, financial security and well-being of the American people,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement. “Uncertainty is surging, farmers are struggling and families across the nation are facing rising costs of living as the GOP’s special interest giveaways continue to hollow out the economy.”

Those Democrats, joined by the party’s members on Capitol Hill, also have been critical of the White House’s tariffs-based approach to stalled trade talks with China. Kudlow said talks are set to resume, even as Trump in recent days has returned to his gloomy talk about the odds of a deal with Beijing.

U.S. and Chinese officials at the “deputies level” will meet later this month in Washington to set an agenda for higher-level trade negotiators to meet in early October, he said.

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“The negotiations are proceeding,” Kudlow told his former network. “I cannot predict an outcome. ... Tempers are calmer now.” He did predict talks will “heat up” when the Chinese delegation arrives.

“President Trump himself continues to say we will make a deal — as long as its a good deal,” Kudlow said, saying China “may need some help” economically and a trade pact with Washington could provide just that.

The talks continue to run the gammut, and the president’s top economic adviser gave no indication the two sides are any closer. Issues on the front burner continue to be ones on which the two sides long have been far apart, including, as Kudlow ticked them off Friday, “agriculture, or IT, or tech transfer, or cloud, or cyber hacking or trade barriers.”

Kudlow appeared on the business-oriented network a few hours after his boss began the day by openly lobbying the Federal Reserve and Supreme Court — something previous presidents have avoided — to bend to his whims.

The president wrote in on morning post his almost-daily call for the central bank to “lower rates,” saying it was “WAY too early to raise, and Way too late to cut - and big dose quantitative tightening didn’t exactly help either.”

And in a further break from his predecessors, Trump went directly at Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, writing this: “Where did I find this guy Jerome? Oh well, you can’t win them all!”

White House officials mostly shrug when asked why Trump, who regularly questions Powell’s judgement, does not simply fire him and replace him with someone he finds more qualified.

Doug Sword contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.