White House welcomes strong jobs data in potentially rule-violating tweets

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2017 1:59 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A series of tweets by White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Friday commenting on strong February job creation figures may have run afoul of federal guidance barring most officials from commenting on key economic data within an hour of its release.

The rule, Statistical Policy Directive Number 3, is meant to "preserve the distinction between the policy-neutral release of data by statistical agencies and their interpretation by policy officials," the White House budget office explained when it published the most recent version in September 1985.

Jason Furman, who led President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, noted on Twitter that the rule had been in place for decades: "Everyone has followed it. Until now."

"Not the biggest issue, but failure to follow a simple black-and-white rule does not speak well of respect for rule of law more generally," he said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Erica Groshen, who led the Labor Department's statistical arm for four years under Obama, in her own comment on Twitter called the directive a "best practice" separating non-partisan number crunchers from officials with a more-political bent.

In its monthly report on U.S. employment, released at 8:30 a.m. (1330 GMT), the Labor Department said nonfarm employers added 235,000 workers to their payrolls last month, with the unemployment rate dropping a tenth of a percentage point to 4.7 percent.

The monthly jobs data sets the tone for financial markets worldwide, and the robust pace of employment growth in February was seen as giving the Federal Reserve a green light to raise interest rates next week.

Twenty-four minutes after the data was released, Spicer tweeted, "Great news for American workers: economy added 235,000 new jobs, unemployment rate drops to 4.7% in first report for @POTUS Trump."

Minutes later, he tweeted, "Not a bad way to start day 50 of this Administration."

Spicer was not alone.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, in his own tweet at 9:02 a.m. (1402 GMT), appeared to hand the credit for the job growth to President Donald Trump: "@POTUS Trump delivers in first #JobsReport. 235,000 new jobs and unemployment rate down to 4.7%. Great news for American workers!"

Vice President Mike Pence also got into the act.

Trump, who is not shy when it comes to using Twitter, had paved the way, retweeting a post from the Drudge Report that said simply, "GREAT AGAIN: +235,000."

(Reporting by Timothy Ahmann; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)