Unemployment numbers not ‘phony’ to Trump anymore

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President Trump speaks at White House on March 10, 2017.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The unemployment numbers candidate Donald Trump assailed for months on the campaign trail as “phony” and fictional are suddenly up to snuff.

The numbers haven’t changed, nor has the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ methodology for compiling them, but with the jobless rate ticking down and hiring on the rise, Trump is eager to point to the economic indicators as a sign that his presidency has been a boon for the economy.

“I talked to the President prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now,’ ” Spicer said Friday from the White House podium, hours after the government announced 235,000 new jobs in February and a dip in the unemployment rate to 4.7% from 4.8%.

Spicer’s response prompted inevitable laughter in a room of reporters mindful of Trump’s repeated smear of government-compiled jobs numbers.

“Don’t believe these phony numbers when you hear 4.9 (%) and 5% unemployment,” Trump told his supporters after winning the New Hampshire primary in early 2016. “The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42%.”

In other instances, Trump suggested the unemployment number could be anywhere between 18% and 42%, calling the official number everything from “total fiction” to “one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics.”

The refrain was a familiar one for Trump, who continued to cast doubt on the monthly unemployment figure throughout his campaign — likely because the downward-trending stat signaled an economy on the upswing under President Barack Obama, whom Trump lampooned daily as ineffective on the stump.

Trump held up little evidence on the campaign to back up his suggestion that the unemployment numbers were “phony,” other than to claim that his rallies would not be so well-attended if the unemployment number was really just around 5%.

But Trump’s mistrust of the unemployment figure went deeper than cautious skepticism.

That’s because Trump also ascribed a motive, suggesting — without evidence — that the figures were being falsified to make Obama look like a more successful president.

All of that was gone Friday morning as the numbers were announced.

“Great news,” Spicer tweeted before his account also retweeted a series of news articles pointing to the new jobs numbers.

A few hours later, Spicer was at the podium touting the numbers, which accounted for the first full month of Trump’s presidency.

“The economy added 235,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7%,” he said, before adding that there’s “no question” Trump’s actions as president so far have helped improve the economic outlook.

But Spicer’s tweet Friday morning came within an hour of the jobs number posting, which could be a violation of a federal rule prohibiting federal members of the executive branch from publicly commenting on jobs reports within an hour of their release.

“We’re excited to see so many Americans back to work,” Spicer said. “So I apologize if we were a little excited, and we’re so glad to see so many fellow Americans back to work.”

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