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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And we begin this hour at the White House. President Obama had, by most measures, a good week. This afternoon, he celebrated the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan at the White House. Her confirmation follows continued progress containing the Gulf Coast oil spill, as well as news that the Iraq troop withdrawal is on schedule.

But some bad news landed with a thud this morning: the monthly jobs report. The country shed more than 100,000 jobs in July and, fairly or unfairly, jobs have become one of the most important barometers in assessing the president's performance, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The first Friday of every month, when the new employment numbers come out, is a moment of truth for the White House. The president tries to strike the appropriate balance between confidence in the direction of the economy and compassion for the millions of Americans still out of work.

Here he is today speaking at a small signmaking company in Washington.

President BARACK OBAMA: The road to recovery doesn't follow a straight line. Some sectors bounce back faster than others. So what we need to do is keep pushing forward. We can't go backwards.

HORSLEY: In some ways, though, the economy has slipped backwards. Today's jobs reports show the U.S. lost 131,000 jobs last month. Much of that was expected as temporary census workers were laid off. But private employers added just 71,000 workers, well below the private sector job growth in March and April. That suggests the nation recovery may be losing steam.

Pres. OBAMA: For America's workers, families and small businesses, progress needs to come faster.

HORSLEY: For months now, Mr. Obama has been urging Congress to adopt some targeted measures to help small businesses, including a $30 billion loan fund. But those measures have been stymied by Senate Republicans. GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell argues the president's economic policies, beginning with the stimulus, have been misguided.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): We've borrowed an enormous amount of money and spent it on the public sector for the last year and a half, and we still have nine-and-a-half percent unemployment and most people feel it's way higher than that. We need to concentrate on trying to get the economy going.

HORSLEY: Actually, government workers were among the big losers in July. Besides the lost census jobs, cash-strapped state and local governments shed about 48,000 workers.

This week, the Senate narrowly passed a $26 billion package of aid to the states in hopes of avoiding more big layoffs of school teachers and other government workers. That seems to be as far as the government's willing to go. And that's a letdown for Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Mr. DEAN BAKER (Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research): You know, you're trying to fill an ocean with a bucket, it's not going to do it. Not that they don't understand the depths, they haven't proposed policies that are in a scale with the severity of the downturn.

HORSLEY: The anemic economic recovery is taking a political toll on the president, amplifying his other challenges. The Gallup Organization regularly polls Americans about both the economy and politics. Gallup's Dennis Jacobe says consumer confidence and spending have both been in a slump since spring, around the time of the European debt crisis.

Meanwhile, the president's approval rating is just 45 percent.

Dr. DENNIS JACOBE (Chief Economist, Gallup Organization): And obviously given the lack of progress in the economy and the soft patch now in our measures that show the economy is the major concern of most Americans, that's not unexpected.

HORSLEY: One of the president's top economic advisers, Christina Romer, announced last night she is leaving the White House to return to her old job as a professor at the University of California.

For an academic like Romer, the last year and a half has been a crash course in what happens when economic policy collides with politics.

Dr. CHRISTINA ROMER (Chair, Council of Economic Advisers): I was a little bit spoiled, right? The first thing I really worked on was the stimulus act. We came into office, it passed, you know? And, you know, to realize that it is not always like that. It is often a much bigger struggle.

HORSLEY: The big struggle now is between those who want the government to do more to boost the economy, and those who think Washington has already done too much.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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