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Trump breaks federal rule about commenting on jobs report

The Hill logo The Hill 8/4/2017 Vicki Needham
Trump turns on GOP Congress © Provided by The Hill Trump turns on GOP Congress President Trump broke an obscure yet tried-and-true rule on Friday - don't comment on the monthly jobs report within the hour of its release.

This is the second time in recent months the Trump administration has violated the federal rule barring all executive branch employees, including the president, from making public comments on leading economic indicators before the hour deadline is reached.

The long-standing federal rule issued in 1985 says that the executive branch must wait for an hour - 9:30 a.m. in the case of the jobs report and most other major economic indicators.

But Trump took to Twitter at 8:45 a.m. Friday morning, only 15 minutes after the government reported that the economy had added 209,000 jobs in July, to hail the results as the result of his administration's policies.

"Excellent Jobs Numbers just released - and I have only just begun. Many job stifling regulations continue to fall. Movement back to USA!"

Trump has taken credit for the labor market's continued expansion and the stock market's continued surge.

The White House receives jobs data and other economic statistics through the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) the day ahead of their release, and are required as part of the rule to refrain from releasing the details early or commenting on it too quickly.

This isn't the first time the White House has violated the rarely mentioned but closely followed rule.

In March, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer broke the rule - officially known as the Office of Management and Budget's Statistical Policy Directive No. 3.

"Great news for American workers in first report for @POTUS Trump," Spicer said on Twitter 22 minutes after the Labor Department released a February jobs number of 235,000.

Spicer later told reporters that while "I understand the rule," his post caused no market disruption because the news was already available and circulating in the media.

"I apologize if we were a little excited, and we're so excited to see so many Americans back to work," he said at the time.

While Trump didn't post his own comments in March, he did retweet a report at 8:41 a.m. by the conservative website Drudge Report with a comment "GREAT AGAIN: +235,000."

The rule transgression received media attention and yet the president, who is known for his unconventional approach to White House communications, repeated the mistake.

Previous presidents have abided by the rule without problem or complaint in the ensuing decades.

The rule doesn't apply to members of Congress or anyone else who has access to the data when it goes live at 8:30 a.m.

Media and congressional leaders are usually pretty quick to produce their assessments of the data before the executive branch can officially comment.

The idea behind the short wait is to give the fresh data a little breathing room from political influence by the administration producing the latest figures.

"The intent of the directive is to preserve the time value of such information, strike a balance between timeliness and accuracy, prevent early access to information that may affect financial and commodity markets and preserve the distinction between the policy-neutral release of data by statistical agencies and their interpretation by policy officials," according to the rule published in the Federal Register.

The rule emerged initially during the Nixon administration when officials were trying to "preserve the neutrality and objectivity of the statistics" produced by the federal government, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

There is no penalty for breaking the rule.

Former Obama administration officials were quick to comment on the latest slip up.

"Most minor transgression, but this is not allowed by Statistical Directive #3. We sometimes rearranged Obama schedule to wait until 9:30 a.m.," tweeted Jason Furman, Obama's former Council of Economic Advisers chairman.

Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute and former chief economist at the Labor Department under Obama, said the rule is "black and white. And simple."

Another violation "doesn't speak well for their respect for rule of law," she said.

The White House is still without a CEA chairman, which is who would normally analyze the latest figures and go on television to discuss the jobs numbers.

Furman noted on Friday that Trump's nominee to head the CEA - Kevin Hassett - has been waiting for confirmation for "80 days and counting."


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