Of course, the president gets a peek in advance, through a briefing the day before. But they traditionally say nothing until the data becomes public; there’s even a federal rule barring employees of the executive branch from commenting on leading economic indicators, including the monthly jobs report, until an hour after they are released. Trump has broken this rule before, tweeting about a positive jobs report at 8:45 a.m. ET last August.
The White House on Friday defended the president’s tweet as appropriate because he didn’t reveal the numbers. Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on CNBC Friday morning that he personally told the president about the jobs report Thursday on Air Force One. “He chose to tweet,” Kudlow said. “I don’t think he gave anything away incidentally,” he added.
But that was beside the point. Any indication from the president that the report was positive is all someone would need to know to make a decision on a trade. And the simple fact that Trump tweeted about it at all was indication enough.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the broader S&P 500 each jumped higher at Friday’s open on the strong report, which in addition to the lower unemployment rate showed that the economy added 223,000 jobs and wages grew in May. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose after Trump’s tweet, as did the WSJ Dollar Index.
To Trump’s critics, the bigger fear wasn’t so much his Friday tweet to the public as was the possibility that the famously chatty president privately bragged about the report to his wealthy friends or family members on Thursday night. “There is a big question about who he privately leaks data to and that should be investigated,” tweeted Betsey Stevenson, formerly the chief economist at the Labor Department during the Obama administration.
The topic is especially sensitive for ex-Obama officials. During the run-up to the 2012 election, the monthly indications of the nation’s recovery from the Great Recession were invested with as much political significance as public polling, to the point where former General Electric chairman Jack Welch baselessly accused the “Chicago guys” of juking the numbers weeks before the election.
“If during the Clinton or Obama Administrations there had been a statement from @POTUS or anyone senior official in the morning before the Employment Report it would have been a major scandal—with all sorts of investigations following on,” Larry Summers, the Clinton-era treasury secretary who served as chairman of Obama’s National Economic Council, tweeted on Friday morning.
The outrage at Trump’s tweet was, perhaps predictably, one-sided. Republicans focused on the bigger picture—one more indicator of a healthy economy that they hope will be their electoral salvation this fall. Democrats were left to cringe at another fallen norm, tossed to the wayside by the blandest of presidential tweets.