WASHINGTON — As one of the bleakest and most tumultuous weeks of his presidency came to a close, President Donald Trump got an unexpected chance to celebrate Friday, when new unemployment figures came in much better than expected.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, May payrolls grew by 2.5 million, a striking reversal after months of economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and forecasts that 9 million jobs would be lost in May.
Following release of the numbers, Trump delivered a rambling, hourlong statement in the Rose Garden, where he addressed everything from his administration's response to coronavirus, to his approach to China, to the pace of economic recovery, to race relations, to the protests near the White House this week, to Floyd, to oil prices, to his record on veterans healthcare.
The unscripted speech was chance for the president to get in front of the cameras and relish the first good news he's had in weeks.
Trump pointed to the jobs numbers as evidence that he was correct in pressuring states to reopen businesses last month, despite most of them not having met the recommended criteria for reopening following the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. He also took a swipe at states that have not fully reopened yet, mostly because they have been especially hard hit by the deadly virus.
"We're opening our country, and I hope that the 'lock down governors" – I don't know why they continue to lock down," Trump said. "Because if you look at Georgia, if you look at Florida, if you look at South Carolina, if you look at so many different places that have opened up, I don't want to name all of them, but the ones that are most energetic about opening, they are doing tremendous business and this is what these numbers are all about."
The BLS figures did reflect that a big part of the job growth was in states that reopened their restaurant industries, with 1.4 million jobs added in "food services and drinking places" last month.
Lost in the celebration were the twin realities that the United States still has an unemployment rate of 13.3%, and that new cases of coronavirus nationwide are still hovering around 21,000 a day.
Nonetheless, the jobs numbers provided a rare piece of positive news after a week of violent civil unrest nationwide triggered by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old, unarmed black man, at the hands of police.
The protests, some of which turned violent, have pitted thousands of protesters against police in dozens of cities, with police and protesters being seriously hurt.
Rather than call for calm, however, Trump has demanded that governors use harsher tactics to "dominate" the protesters, and threatened to deploy active-duty troops to U.S. cities if local governments do not act fast enough to stop the demonstrations and the looting that has followed protests in several major cities.
On Friday, Trump repeatedly stressed his belief that a strong economy is the best way to address the country's systemic racism, and he ignored questions about what if any plan he has to address police brutality of the sort that caused Floyd's death.
"What's happened to our country and what you now see is the greatest thing that can happen for race relations," Trump said as he signed a bill updating the Paycheck Protection Program.
"For the African-American community, for Asian-American, for Hispanic-American community, for women, for everything," said Trump.
"What's your plan?" asked a reporter.
"Our country is so strong, and that's what my plan is," Trump replied. "We're going to have the strongest economy in the world. We are almost there now."
Trump also said Friday's positive jobs numbers made it "a great day" for Floyd, who died of asphyxiation in Minneapolis on May 25.
"You all saw what happened last week. We can't let that happen," Trump said, referring to Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
"Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying, 'this is a great thing happening for our country,'" Trump continued. "It's a great day for him, a great day for everybody. This is great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality. It's really what our constitution requires and what our country is about."