USA

Trump ducks press questions at rosy briefing on jobs numbers

President Donald Trump on Thursday did not take questions from reporters during an impromptu White House news briefing — ducking comment on swirling controversies even at a public appearance ostensibly intended to promote positive economic news amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Today’s announcement proves that our economy is roaring back. It’s coming back extremely strong,” Trump told members of the media assembled in the Brady Press Briefing Room, roughly an hour after the Labor Department reported the U.S. economy had added 4.8 million jobs in June and the unemployment rate had fallen to 11.1 percent.

“So I want to thank everybody for being here today,” Trump said at the conclusion of his 15-minute remarks. “These are historic numbers in a time that a lot of people would have wilted. They would have wilted. But we didn’t wilt, and our country didn’t wilt. And I’m very honored to be your president. Thank you very much.”

Trump then turned and exited the briefing room, yielding the lectern to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow as reporters shouted various lines of inquiry at the departing president.

His decision to skirt those queries comes at a particularly perilous moment in the nation’s battle against a resurgent public health crisis, as well as a tumultuous time for Trump’s reelection campaign.

The United States has reported a record number of new Covid-19 infections, surpassing 50,000 cases for the first time Wednesday as the president again claimed in an interview with Fox Business that the highly contagious disease is “at some point ... going to sort of just disappear.”

The precipitous climbs in caseloads have been accelerated by community spread of Covid-19, increased rates of infection among young people and an abandonment by many Americans of personal mitigation measures such as mask-wearing — a preventative practice Trump had been loath to embrace until Wednesday, when he acknowledged “masks are good.”

Spikes in coronavirus cases across the South and West in states including Arizona, California, Florida and Texas have also forced some governors to halt or reverse their reopening plans, potentially denying Trump the explosive economic rebound he had hoped to preside over as the U.S. emerged from stay-at-home orders.

Even the jobs report Trump touted Thursday likely painted a far rosier picture of the U.S. economy than exists in reality. The Labor Department’s June survey was conducted mid-month, before the latest wave of shutdowns. Americans filed 1.4 million new applications for unemployment benefits last week, the department reported.

The president remains similarly under siege on issues unrelated to public health, facing continued questions from congressional lawmakers and the media regarding his knowledge of reported Russian bounties paid to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan to kill U.S. troops. The White House has struggled this week to clarify the extent of Trump’s briefing on the matter.

And in the political realm, almost all public polling shows Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, in surveys of voters nationwide, with Biden also expanding his advantages in the battleground states Trump captured in 2016 to win office.

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