Obama Trips Over `Fine Economy’

Photograph by Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

President Barack Obama leaves after speaking about the economy in the briefing room of the White House.

“The private sector is doing fine.”

President Barack Obama said this today, at a podium in the West Wing.

The Republican National Committee pounced, with a Web-video replaying his words and asking: “How can President Obama fix our economy, if he doesn’t understand what’s broken.”

Within a few hours of the comment from the White House, the president was revising his remarks in the Oval Office.

“Listen, it is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine,” Obama told reporters this afternoon. ”The economy’s not doing fine. There are too many people out of work, the housing market is still weak and too many homes underwater.”

“He said the private sector is doing fine,” Republican rival Mitt Romney said in response to the initial words from the White House, as he campaigned today in Iowa. ”Is he really that out of touch?”

The day’s remarkable turnaround — an event which Obama’s opponents are likely to seize as aggressively as Obama himself made then-rival Republican John McCain pay for remarks in the fall of 2008 that the economy was OK — started with an attempt by the president to close the week with a shot at Congress for failing to act on job-creating legislation.

“The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone,” Obama said this morning at the rostrum in the press briefing room. “The private sector is doing fine.”

`Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government — oftentimes, cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in.”

The RNC’s rapid response is a measure of what the party learned the last time around, when its nominee appeared out of touch with the economic crisis that was unfolding around the campaign — it became such a vulnerability for McCain that he suspended campaigning for a few days,  returning to Washington to show that he was addressing the problem.

The party video-attack on Obama opens with headlines about job losses, a stalled economy and last week’s report that the economy created just 69,000 new jobs last month, unemployment inching up to 8.2 percent.

“The private sector is doing fine,” Obama is shown saying, twice, in the video.

“Listen, it is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine; that’s the reason I had the press conference,” the president said in his clean-up later today.  “That’s precisely why I asked Congress to start taking some steps that can make a difference. What I’m interested in hearing from Congress and Mr. Romney is, what steps are they willing to talke right now that are going to make an actual difference?”

 with thanks to Margaret Talev’s reporting from the Oval Office and John McCormick in Council Bluffs, Iowa.




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