WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid had another "oops" moment this morning when he said that "only 36,000 people lost their jobs today, which is really good."
Reid's comment in context was that it could have been worse, as the nation's unemployment rate for February did not increase as was widely expected. It held at 9.7 percent.
But the quip he delivered in a Senate speech this morning was seized by his political opponents, eager to place it on a list of other Reid-delivered insults and head-scratching remarks that have dotted his recent career.
“Only in Harry Reid’s world is it a good thing that 36,000 more Americans lost their jobs in February,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, appeared to mis-speak in the speech, as the 36,000 people he cited did not lose their jobs in one day, but over the course of the month.
Reid’s office moved quickly into damage control, focusing on the message he was trying to deliver and not on how he said it. Aides charged critics were pulling his remarks out of context.
“Respected publications like the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and Bloomberg News reported that as many as 75,000 people were expected to have lost their jobs in February,” said Jim Manley, his senior communications adviser.
“Fortunately it turned out to be much lower than that. Only those Republicans who would root for failure would refuse to acknowledge any progress at all.”
Reid himself returned to the Senate floor several hours later. He said his remarks “are being irresponsibly characterized by those seeking to score political points.”
That 36,000 people lost their jobs last month, he said, “Is undeniably devastating news.
“But if we’re going to discuss the state of our economy and the direction in which it’s going – and if we’re going to talk about it like adults – we have to take a step back and put this number in context,” he said.
While unemployment “is still too high,” the stimulus program proposed by President Barack Obama and passed largely by Democrats “no question ... stopped a terrible situation from getting even worse.
“We don’t pretend for a minute that it’s enough,” Reid said. “I know Nevada’s families and businesses are hurting. And it’s why we’re going to do even more to put people back to work.
People should start looking literally at the glass being half full rather than half empty. People should start betting on the success of this country and not its failure, as some have done.”
Reid aides distributed a roundup of news reports that the jobs front appears to be improving. Compared to February of this year, 651,000 jobs disappeared last February, according to the New York Times.
Still, opponents seized on the gaffe.
The campaign of Danny Tarkanian, one of the Republicans running against Reid this year, rushed to complete a Web site where visitors could vote on their favorite “Reid-ism.”
Sue Lowden, another leading Republican challenger, said 36,000 out of work people would fill “a jam-packed Thomas & Mack Center and Lawlor Events Center,” on the campuses of UNLV and University of Nevada, Reno respectively.
The Reid comment was not in his prepared remarks for when he opened the Senate session, as he does most mornings with a short speech about the schedule and the Democrats’ message for the day.
Reid’s penchant for off-the-cuff comments have caused him some headaches, and some opportunities for his critics, even as the substance of his messages sometimes may be on target or close to it.
Earlier this month he remarked that men who lose their jobs “tend to become abusive,” which was mocked by opponents even as crisis shelter workers said there was something to what he said.
In January, Reid apologized to President Obama and African American leaders after the release of the book “Game Change.” In it Reid was quoted as saying back in 2008 that he believed Obama would be a strong candidate for president because he was “light skinned”, and had no “Negro dialect.”
Contact Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.