From a White House that coined the term “alternative facts”, admissions are rare and apologies even rarer. But on Monday, the American people were treated to both.
The White House’s chief economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, admitted that Donald Trump had been wrong to claim that GDP growth was higher than the unemployment rate for the first time in 100 years.
On Monday morning, Trump wrote on Twitter: “The GDP Rate (4.2%) is higher than the Unemployment Rate (3.9%) for the first time in over 100 years!”
Asked about the veracity of the statement later that day at a White House press briefing, Hassett said: “So I can tell you what is true. … What is true is that it’s the highest in 10 years. And at some point somebody probably conveyed it to him adding a zero to that and they shouldn’t have done that.”
Standing behind the same podium where the former White House press secretary Sean Spicer once falsely claimed that Trump’s inauguration drew the largest crowd there had ever been, Hassett thanked the reporter for the chance to set the record straight.
“We numbers geeks here at the White House are grateful when the press finds mistakes that we make – we don’t like making mistakes but we’re grateful when they’re pointed out because we want to correct them.”
US GDP growth has in fact been higher than the unemployment rate in several quarters during the last century, including, most recently, in 2006. Several economists and journalists were quick to make that point on Twitter.
Hassett said he could not explain how Trump obtained the false information.
“I’m not the chairman of the council of Twitter advisers,” he said.
Administration officials rarely contradict Trump in public and almost never from behind the podium, well aware that the president prizes loyalty above all else in his employees. Public appearances at the briefings are typically used to praise Trump.
And indeed, most of Hassett’s comments were flattering as he hyped Trump’s record on the economy.
But as he answered a question from a reporter about Trump’s morning tweet, he also bashfully recalled an occasion a few weeks ago when he provided the White House with a “bad number”.
“It was 100% my fault and I apologized immediately,” Hassett said, hand over his heart.