It was supposed to be a chance for President Donald Trump to sell the economic benefits of Republicans’ overhaul of the country’s tax code to the voters who will help decide this fall whether the GOP keeps its majority in Congress.
But it became clear to White House aides during Trump’s speech in Ohio on Monday that the plunging stock market was quickly overshadowing the remarks, even though the president was delivering his greatest hits: bashing the media, slamming Democrats and fanning conspiracy theories about the “deep state.”
As he wrapped up his 47-minute speech, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News had already cut away, showing viewers how much the Dow Jones industrial average had plummeted over the course of the day.
White House aides quickly decided the administration needed to issue a formal response to the plunging stock market after months of jumping at the chance take credit for the record gains.
Aides huddled aboard Air Force One after the speech, seeking input from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and others traveling with the president on the statement that would be released by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders minutes after Trump arrived back at the White House. They dispatched White House spokesman Hogan Gidley to CNN. The best way to respond to the story, aides decided, was to downplay it altogether: markets fluctuate, they said, and the economy is on a positive long-term trajectory.
“The president’s focus is on our long-term economic fundamentals, which remain exceptionally strong, with strengthening U.S. economic growth, historically low unemployment and increasing wages for American workers,” Sanders said in the statement. “The president’s tax cuts and regulatory reforms will further enhance the U.S. economy and continue to increase prosperity for the American people.”
Gidley made a similar case during his CNN interview, stressing that aides weren’t worried about Trump bearing any blame. “Even though there is a one-day fluctuation, it’s still in a really good place and much better than when he took office,” he said.
The Dow Jones had tumbled 1,500 points at its lowest point Monday. It later recovered slightly, closing down nearly 1,200 points, or 4.6 percent.
It was the biggest one-day point drop in the history of the Dow — putting the industrial average below the 25,000 mark for the first time since Jan. 4 — and the worst overall performance since 2008. The plunge came on the heels of a 666-point drop on Friday, capping a two-day trading stretch that wiped out the market’s entire gains this year.
Trump took credit for the Dow Jones’ rise above 25,000 last month, telling reporters that his new goal was 30,000.
“Dow just crashes through 25,000. Congrats!” the president tweeted on Jan. 4. “Big cuts in unnecessary regulations continuing.”
On Monday, he declined to take questions from reporters after arriving back at the White House. And his treasury secretary twice swatted away questions about the stock market during the return trip, though he released a statement timed to Trump’s tax speech.
“The president is delivering on his promise to provide relief to middle-income families, make American businesses more competitive and grow our economy,” Mnuchin said.
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