Hours after saying the private sector is “doing fine,” President Obama on Friday walked back those remarks, saying it’s “absolutely clear” the economy is not fine.
Obama corrected himself at an Oval Office press availability just hours after making the original remark to reporters in the White House briefing room during an impromptu statement and press conference.
The verbal gaffe offered a political gift to Republicans and capped a miserable week for the president, who was on the losing side of Wisconsin’s recall election and saw his campaign beaten in fundraising by Republican Mitt Romney for the month of May.
“It is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine,” Obama said in his correction. “That's the reason I had a press conference. That's why I spent yesterday, the day before yesterday, this past week, this past month and this past year talking about how we can make the economy stronger.
“There are too many people out of work, the housing market is still weak and too many homes underwater, and that's precisely why I asked Congress to start taking some steps that can make a difference,” Obama said.
The rare walk-back overshadowed Obama’s criticism of Congress made in the initial press conference, which Obama had hoped to use to draw attention to his jobs proposal.
“I think if you look at what I said this morning and what I've been saying consistently over the last year, we've actually seen some good momentum in the private sector,” he said. “There's been 4.3 million jobs created, 800,000 this year alone, record corporate profits. And so that has not been the biggest drag on the economy.”
Obama and his campaign have been emphasizing that the economy is growing despite the worst recession since the Great Depression, and the comment that the private sector was “doing fine” was meant in contrast to the public sector, which has seen months of job cuts in part due to Republican-led budget cuts.
But saying that the private sector was “doing fine” seemed tone deaf during an economic recovery that most economists agree has been sluggish at best.
The remarks come a week to the day the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the economy added only 69,000 jobs in May while the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.2 percent.
Republicans compared Obama's comment to Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) election-changing comments in 2008 — at the height of the economic crisis — when he said, “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.”
Romney, Obama's presumptive opponent this fall, said the president was “really defining what it means to be out of touch with reality.”
Other Republicans piled on. Speaker John Boehner said, “Take it from me, the private sector is not doing well."