Jobs report puts a damper on Obama's effort to keep the message positive

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2010; 1:06 PM

President Obama spent much of the week harvesting bits of good news from some of his short- and longer-term initiatives.

(Obama takes victory tour over auto bailout)

In Chicago, he showcased the revived U.S. auto industry that he bailed out last year.

And here in Washington his senior advisers highlighted a federal report showing that most of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico is gone, suggesting a less-grave scenario than had been predicted. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called that "good news" and said the federal response to the spill had played an important part in containing the potential damage.

(Oil spill: The latest developments)

Obama even dropped in on a briefing for journalists to say that new sanctions on Iran appear to be exerting new pressure on the government there.

(Kagan: Missed messages on Iran)

Then came the jobs report, the monthly reminder that one number above all others matters most to the country and the Democratic Party's political future. That would be the unemployment rate, still stuck at 9.5 percent.

"Progress needs to come faster," Obama told an audience Friday at Gelberg Signs, a Washington-based small business. "Our job is to make sure that happens."

Temporary census jobs that had inflated earlier reports are disappearing, a trend that led to a net loss of 131,000 jobs last month. The private sector added 71,000 jobs, well below predictions.

"For the millions of Americans who are unable to find work, this White House's empty cheerleading rings hollow," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement. "President Obama has been more focused on growing government than growing jobs, and it shows."

White House officials had hoped for -- and even planned -- another ending to a week of accomplishments and relatively good news.

It was the first of that kind in a while, and its up-then-down quality highlights the administration's challenge in trying to build a consistently positive message at a time of uncertain recovery.

Administration officials hope the finicky electorate sees the positives in mixed weeks such as this one with midterm campaigns unfolding quickly and the president hitting the trail more aggressively. There were a few bright spots for the administration to point to.

The Senate unexpectedly passed a $26 billion aid package that will keep tens of thousands of public school teachers and other government workers in their jobs this fall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the House back into session next week to finish work on the measure.

In addition, senators approved child nutrition bill that drew a rare public statement from first lady Michelle Obama, who called the measure "a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will help us provide healthier school meals to children across America."

That, too, was a bonus for a White House that, by nearly any measure, takes a highly productive legislative record into the fall campaign season, even if much of it remains controversial.

And Obama also secured Senate approval for his second Supreme Court justice, Elena Kagan, whose relatively easy confirmation will be celebrated Friday afternoon at an East Room reception. Without the jobs report to color the day, the event could have capped a rare week of relatively unmitigated good news for the president and his staff.

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