WASHINGTON (CN) — Saying that the unarmed black man killed last week in Minneapolis would be proud, President Donald Trump raised eyebrows with off-the-cuff remarks as he touted Friday’s better-than-expected jobs numbers while formalizing changes to a loan program for small businesses.
“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that is happening for our country,” Trump said, referring to the victim of a Memorial Day police killing whose death has sparked days of civil unrest in every state and several other countries.
“This is a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody,” Trump added. “This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
Trump invoked George Floyd’s name after appearing to return to his prepared remarks and discussing the need for people to receive “equal justice under law” and be treated equally in interactions with law enforcement, regardless of race.
Though the president’s speech was largely about a Friday jobs report — new numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that unemployment dropped 1.4 points in May from the month prior — it was difficult to tell precisely what aspect of the day Trump was referring to in his remarks on Floyd.
At 13.3% the national unemployment rate is better than expected, though still well above pre-lockdown lows. Trump hailed the numbers as a positive step for racial equality, even though they show that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for black Americans rose 0.1 percentage point since April.
At different times in his speech, Trump likened the economic impact of the pandemic to a hurricane, and the U.S. economy to a patient undergoing surgery. Like a healthy patient, Trump predicted a quick recovery for the economy.
“It’s not going to stop here, it’s going to keep going,” Trump said, referring to the job gains.
He said the numbers mark the beginning of a recovery and called on states to further loosen up lockdowns put in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Ostensibly, Friday’s event was held for Trump to sign legislation that gives greater flexibility to companies struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.
Congress passed the bill with only one lawmaker opposed. It makes changes to the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal initiative that allows small businesses to take out loans that can be forgiven if they are used to cover payroll, rent and certain other expenses.
Under the bill, businesses will be able to spend the money across 24 weeks, up from the eight week timeframe in the original version of the legislation passed as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. It also gives businesses more flexibility on what they can spend the loan money on and still be eligible for forgiveness, raising a cap on how much can go to cover expenses other than payroll.
In addition, companies will have until the end of the year to re-hire employees they laid off during the state-mandated closures and other restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the virus.
Business groups said the increased flexibility in the law is necessary because while economies are opening up again, there are still restrictions that make it difficult for them to operate as usual.
No further recovery bill has yet to gain traction in Congress, with Senate Republicans urging a cautious approach as lockdowns ease. But the president on Friday said the White House will push Congress for a payroll tax cut, long a priority of Trump’s in response to the pandemic, and money for the restaurant industry.