There has been so little good news lately that President Obama shouldn’t be faulted for wanting to celebrate the latest jobs report Friday morning, which showed another month of impressive jobs growth. But he quickly learned that the White House Briefing Room is not a good place to try to take a little victory lap. It turns out that neither the reporters nor world events would let that happen.
The president began his press conference with the jaunty declaration that this was a “happy Friday.” He then rattled off the day’s employment statistics, boasting of what he called “a six-month streak with at least 200,000 new jobs each month.” He then felt secure enough to use words he previously could not to describe the economy. Words like “stronger” and “better” and “recovered.” He even went so far as to use the ultimate word in describing an economic recovery — “booming.” With great satisfaction, he declared: “Our engines are revving a little bit louder.”
Doubling down on his joy, he then went for the easy jab at a partisan target just begging to be poked — the embarrassing failure of House Republican leadership to rally the GOP troops Thursday behind Speaker John Boehner’s preferred measure to deal with the crisis on the nation’s southern border. With his own competence very much being questioned by critics in recent weeks, the president turned the tables, mixing sarcasm and mockery to note that House Republicans were fighting among themselves and were showing themselves less than adept at running a legislative chamber. He also noted the dissonance in messaging when the House GOP is suing him for executive actions they dislike but now they are “suggesting I should act on my own because they couldn’t pass a bill.”
Boehner’s office was quick to issue a statement insisting “that there is no contradiction at all in our position on executive action.” But that is not how it appears even to some conservative commentators.
Had Obama left the Briefing Room at that point, he might even have done a little jig. He was clearly pleased. But he didn’t leave. And the questions from reporters were immediate reminders of all the things that aren’t going well in the world. The questions were about failures — the failed cease-fire in Gaza, the failed attempts to affect Russian behavior in Ukraine, the failure to work with Republicans. It came to a head when Bill Plante of CBS News bluntly put the failures at his feet.
“Has the United States of America lost its influence in the world? Have you lost yours?”
Obama, looking pained, lamented that this “is a common theme that folks bring up.” Almost professorially, he tried to explain to Plante the history of American diplomacy and the reality that even the most powerful country on earth “still does not control everything around the world.” What is happening today, he said, “may seem … an aberration…. But the truth of the matter is … that this is a big world out there” and conflicts are inevitable. Plante, seemingly unpersuaded, responded with a seven-word follow: “Do you think you could’ve done more?”
Clearly, this was not much of a celebration of the good news on jobs and not much of a dance over the GOP confusion. So there was a hint of presidential frustration as Obama prepared to exit. He suggested it might be “useful for me to end by just reminding folks” of the good economic numbers. “You know, in my first term, if I had a press conference like this, typically everybody would want to ask about the economy and how come jobs weren’t being created and how come the housing market’s still bad and, you know, why isn’t it working?”
Left unsaid was the suggestion that reporters only ask about bad news. And if reporters were not going to ask about the jobs numbers, he made a point of repeating them before he left. They demonstrate, he insisted, “that if you stay at it, eventually we make some progress.”
With that, he sadly noted that no one had wished him a happy birthday. That elicited a chorus of questions about CIA misbehavior and deadly diseases, prompting a somewhat plaintive presidential lament: “What happened to the happy birthday thing?”