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First Amendment Watch: Trump’s Team Considers Moving White House Press Room

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump’s team could move the White House press briefing room from the West Wing to another location that accommodates more media from around the country and the world, senior officials in the incoming administration said on Sunday.

Esquire magazine reported on Saturday that the Trump administration planned to relocate White House reporters from the press room to the White House Conference Center or the Old Executive Office Building next door.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on Sunday that Trump’s team discussed moving news conferences out of the small West Wing briefing room to the Old Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House complex.

Such a move would mark a potential change in access for reporters as the current briefing room is only steps from the Oval Office.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Priebus both said no decision had been made.

Trump has had a contentious relationship with some prominent U.S. news organization that he refers to derisively as the “mainstream media,” banning some news outlets during the presidential campaign and publicly criticizing individual reporters.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Pence did not respond directly when asked whether potentially moving reporters was a logistical move or a punitive one.

“The interest of the team is to make sure that we accommodate the broadest number of people who are interested and media from around the country and around the world,” Pence said.

Tensions with Trump escalated last week after some news organizations reported unsubstantiated allegations that suggested the president-elect could be blackmailed by Russia. At a raucous news conference last week in New York, Trump pointedly refused to take a question from a CNN reporter and called the news outlet “fake news.”

The White House Correspondents’ Association objected in a statement to “any move that would shield the president and his advisers from the scrutiny of an on-site White House press corps,” and said it would fight to keep the briefing room and access to senior administration officials open.

‘CRITICAL TO TRANSPARENCY’

Jeff Mason, a Reuters White House correspondent who is president of the association, said in a statement on Sunday he met for nearly two hours with incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Mason said he made it clear the association “would view it as unacceptable if the incoming administration sought to move White House reporters out of the press work space behind the press briefing room” as Trump’s team considers a larger briefing room.

“Access in the West Wing to senior administration officials, including the press secretary, is critical to transparency and to journalists’ ability to do their jobs,” Mason said.

Mason said Spicer “expressed concern that journalists adhere to a high level of decorum at press briefings and press conferences. I made clear that the WHCA would object, always, to a reporter being thrown out of a briefing or press conference.”

Priebus said: “I know that some of the folks in the press are uptight about this, and I understand.” He said the only thing that had been discussed was whether or not the initial press conferences would be held in the existing press room that he said was “very, very tiny.”

The current press room has about 49 seats.

“So no one is moving out of the White House,” Priebus said.

The White House Conference Center had been used as a temporary press room during the George W. Bush administration

The briefing room was built in 1970 by Richard Nixon over an old swimming pool installed by Franklin Roosevelt that was used regularly by John F. Kennedy but underutilized by later administrations. But the presence of reporters at the White House dates back even farther.

In addition to theater-style seats where the White House press secretary conducts daily briefings, the press area of the White House includes workspace for television, radio, print and online news organizations that cover the administration on a daily basis.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Will Dunham; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: Reince Priebus (R), chief of staff to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, walks with a staff member as he arrives to attend meetings with Trump at the Mar-a-lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. December 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Unemployment Rate Falls To A Nine-Year Low

WASHINGTON, Dec 2 (Reuters) – – U.S. employers boosted hiring in November and the unemployment rate dropped to a more than nine-year low of 4.6 percent, making it almost certain that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates later this month.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 178,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said on Friday. The solid gains in employment likely reflect rising confidence in the economy.

Data for September and October were, however, revised to show 2,000 fewer jobs created than previously reported. The three-tenths of a percentage point drop in the unemployment rate last month to its lowest level since August 2007 was both the result of more people finding work as well as dropping out of the labor force.

The report came on the heels of recent data showing the economy growing at a brisk clip in the third quarter, and gains in consumer spending, inflation, housing and manufacturing early in the fourth quarter.

Economists had forecast payrolls rising by 175,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate unchanged at 4.9 percent.

A pullback in wage growth after two straight months of solid increases put a wrinkle in an otherwise upbeat employment report. Average hourly earnings fell three cents, or 0.1 percent, after shooting up 0.4 percent in October.

The drop lowered the year-on-year gain in wages to 2.5 percent in November from October’s 2.8 percent increase, which was the largest rise in nearly 7-1/2 years. The moderation largely reflects a calendar quirk, which economists expect Fed officials will overlook at their Dec. 13-14 policy meeting.

While a surge in U.S. government bond yields and a rally in the dollar in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as the next U.S. president had tightened financial market conditions, economists said it was probably insufficient for the Fed to stand pat. The U.S. central bank raised its benchmark overnight interest rate last December for the first time in nearly a decade.

As the labor market nears full employment, job gains have slowed from an average of 229,000 per month in 2015 to an average of 180,000 this year.

Still, the monthly increases are more than enough to absorb new entrants into the labor market. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said the economy needs to create just under 100,000 jobs a month to keep up with growth in the working-age population.

Trump’s plan to increase infrastructure spending and slash taxes could encourage companies to boost hiring and spur an even faster pace of economic growth over the coming years.

The participation rate, or the share of working-age Americans who are employed or at least looking for a job, fell 0.1 percentage point to 62.7 percent last month, not too far from multi-decade lows, in part reflecting demographic changes.

Manufacturing payrolls fell by 4,000 jobs in November, declining for a fourth straight month. Construction employment increased by 19,000 jobs last month after rising by 14,000 in October. Retail sector payrolls fell 8,300, dropping for a second straight month.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

IMAGE: The better-than-expected US jobs numbers (AFP/Andrew Burton)

U.S. Payrolls Gains Beat Expectations, Wages Rise

U.S. employment increased more than expected in July and wages picked up, which should bolster expectations of an acceleration in economic growth and raise the probability of an interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve this year.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 255,000 jobs last month as hiring rose broadly after an upwardly revised 292,000 surge in June, the Labor Department said on Friday.

The unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.9 percent as more people entered the labor market. Highlighting labor market strength, average hourly wages increased a healthy eight cents. Maypayrolls were revised up to 24,000 from the previously reported 11,000.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls increasing 180,000 in July and the unemployment rate dipping one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.8 percent.

Last month’s strong job growth should reinforce the Fed’s confidence in a labor market that officials view as at or near full employment. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said the economy needs to create just under 100,000 jobs a month to keep up with population growth.

The second straight month of robust job gains is a boost to an economy after growth averaged a 1.0 percent annual rate in the last three quarters. After a policy meeting last month, the Fed described the labor market as having “strengthened” and said it appeared it was still tightening.

The U.S. central bank raised interest rates at the end of last year for the first time in nearly a decade, but has held them steady since amid concerns over persistently low inflation. Most economists expect another rate hike in December, though financial markets have almost priced out that possibility.

The 0.3 percent increase in average hourly earnings left the year-on-year gain at 2.6 percent.

The payrolls data added to July auto sales in underscoring the economy’s sound fundamentals. Economic growth is expected to accelerate to at least a 2.5 percent annualized rate in the second quarter.

But with the bulk of labor market slack largely absorbed and the economy’s recovery from the 2007-2009 recession showing signs of aging, payroll gains will probably drift to average between 150,000 and 160,000 jobs per month later this year, economists say.

Manufacturing sector employment increased by 9,000 jobs in July after adding 15,000 positions in June. Construction payrolls rose 14,000 following three consecutive months of declines. While mining shed a further 7,000 jobs in July.

Other details of the employment report showed a rise in the labor force. That raised the participation rate, or the share of working-age Americans who are employed or at least looking for a job, by one-tenth of a percentage point to 62.8 percent.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao) ((Lucia.Mutikani@thomsonreuters.com; 1 202 898 8315; Reuters Messaging: lucia.mutikani.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net)

Photo: People enter the Nassau County Mega Job Fair at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York October 7, 2014. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton