Larry Kudlow, director of the U.S. National Economic Council, acknowledged in stark terms Sunday the hardship quantified by the recently released April employment report, but attempted to put a positive spin on the record job-loss numbers, arguing that the havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic might not be permanent.
"Inside the numbers is a glimmer of hope," Kudlow said in an interview on ABC's "This Week" Sunday morning, adding that "80% of it was furloughs and temporary layoffs. That, by the way, doesn't assure that you will go back to a job, but it says strongly that the cord between the worker and the business is still intact. I think, hopefully, that has something to do with the $3 trillion of assistance, including the payroll protection plan."
But as states around the country embark on the first stages of economic reopening plans, Kudlow cautioned that their impact on the economy may not be immediate and predicted at least one more round of grim numbers to come.
"I don't want to sugarcoat it because I think the numbers for May are going to be also very difficult," he told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. "It's going to take a while for the reopening to have an impact."
Kudlow's comments about the coronavirus, and its economic impact, have evolved over the past few months. In February, Kudlow told CNBC the virus was "contained … pretty close to airtight" and did not believe the situation would result in "economic tragedy." He later defended the statement by saying he was only "as good as the facts are" and that "at the time, a lot of people felt at the time that the flu was worse than the virus."
Then, in late March, after the administration "changed our whole posture and our whole strategy and we've gone full bore," Kudlow predicted on "This Week" that the then-recently signed third stimulus bill was "going to give a tremendous amount of resources to get us through what we still believe is going to be a question of weeks and months." However, the director acknowledged the relief legislation, topping $2 trillion, "may not be perfect."
On Friday, in the wake of the April employment report that found a record 20.5 million jobs were lost and unemployment reached 14.7%, Kudlow predicted that "the economic and jobs numbers are going to continue to deteriorate."
With additional legislative remedies to address the crisis currently in the works on Capitol Hill, Kudlow explained the Trump administration's hesitancy to immediately embrace another stimulus package with a potential price tag in the trillions.
House Democrats, led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, have previewed a bill that includes aid to state and local governments that could cost as much as $2 trillion.
“Yet you and the president have said, now is not the time to be dealing with that. Why not?" asked Stephanopoulos.
"Well I'm not saying, 'now is not the time,' and I don't think that's what the president said either," Kudlow said. "I think that many people would like to pause for a moment and take a look at the economic impact of (the initial) massive assistance program, which is the greatest in United States history."
He also explained that while there is no formal negotiation ongoing between the White House and Congressional Democrats, the two parties remain in touch, characterizing a report to the contrary as "simply not true."
Democrats' early and outspoken condemnation of the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic was amplified Friday by former President Barack Obama, who labeled its response "anemic and spotty" on a phone call with former members of his administration, explaining that he believes self-interest and division "has become a stronger impulse in American life."
"It would have been bad even with the best of governments. It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset -- of 'what's in it for me' and 'to heck with everybody else' -- when that mindset is operationalized in our government," the former president said on a call with members of the Obama Alumni Association, according to Yahoo News, which obtained a recording of the conversation.
Asked on "This Week" about that criticism, Kudlow said that "what we've done may not be 100% perfect," but expressed incredulity over the comments.
"With all due respect to the former president -- and I really don't want to get into a political back-and-forth here -- I just, I don't know what he's talking about," he said.
"I don't understand what President Obama is saying. It just sounds so darn political to me," Kudlow added later, before predicting that the second half of the year would bring strong indications of a successful rebound, including "probably 20% economic growth."
The White House is also facing a growing number of COVID-19 cases among its own staff, leading to the recent precautionary quarantine of a number of administration officials, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Kudlow said that he and other White House officials will continue to heed the recommendations of the White House Medical Unit and explained that all individuals who come into contact with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are tested daily. He added, in response to a question, that citizens should draw their own conclusions about public safety based on the situation at the White House.
"I don't want to generalize from it, because -- although I don't have all the numbers, I haven't seen that yet -- in terms of the White House complex, which is an enormous place, at least 500 people, probably much more than that … those who have tested positive is still a small fraction," Kudlow said.
What to know about the coronavirus:
- How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
- What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
- Tracking the spread in the U.S. and worldwide: Coronavirus map
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