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May 29, 2020, 5:19 p.m. EDT

White House decision to withhold traditional midyear economic review confirmed

Fresh sign of the administration’s anxiety about spotlighting in a midsession review how the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the economy just months before the election

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By Associated Press


Associated Press
President Donald Trump arrives on stage at a Feb. 20 campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colo.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House has taken the unusual step of deciding not to release an updated economic forecast as planned this year, a fresh sign of the administration’s anxiety about how the coronavirus has ravaged the nation just months before the election.

The decision, which was confirmed Thursday by a senior administration official who was not authorized to publicly comment on the plan, came amid intensifying signals of the pandemic’s grim economic toll.

‘It’s a sign that the White House does not anticipate a major recovery in employment and growth prior to the election and that it has essentially punted economic policy over to the Fed and the Congress.’

Joe Brusuelas, chief economist, RSM

The U.S. economy shrank at a faster-than-expected annual rate of 5% during the first quarter, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. At least 2.1 million Americans lost their jobs last week, meaning an astonishing 41 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since shutdowns intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus began in mid-March.

Trump argues that the economy will rebound later this year or in 2021 and that voters should give him another term in office to oversee the expansion. But the delay of the updated midyear economic forecast, typically released in July or August, was an indication that the administration doesn’t want to bring attention to the pandemic’s impact anytime soon.

“It’s a sign that the White House does not anticipate a major recovery in employment and growth prior to the election and that it has essentially punted economic policy over to the Fed and the Congress,” said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist for the consultant RSM.

The senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, maintained that the underlying economic data would be too uncertain to convey a meaningful picture about the recovery.

But the political stakes of a weakening economy are hard to overstate, especially in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that are critical to the election’s outcome. Those states went to Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a combined margin, across all three states, of just 80,000.

According to an AP-NORC poll conducted in May, 49% of Americans approve of how the president is handling the economy. That has dipped over the last two months, from the 56% who said so in March.

Still, the economy remains a particular strong point for Trump. Before the outbreak began, and even as the virus started sending shock waves through the economy, approval of how he had handled the issue was the highest it’s been over the course of his presidency.

Since then, views on the economy have reversed dramatically.

The May poll found that 70% of Americans call the nation’s economy poor, while just 29% say it’s good. In January, 67% called the economy good.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and liberal economists swiftly seized on the report’s delay to argue that Trump is seeking to avoid putting his administration’s imprint on bad economic news in the months before the Nov. 3 vote.

“This desperate attempt to keep the American people in the dark about the economy’s performance is not only an acknowledgement that Trump knows he’s responsible for some of the most catastrophic economic damage in American history, but also a sign of how stunningly out of touch he is with hard-working Americans,” said Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman.

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