Republicans ridicule Obama’s ‘shocking claim’

President Barack Obama’s surprise Friday morning press conference likely added to his campaign-trail woes, because it showed him as weak and out-of-touch on a range of issues.

It also provided his GOP opponents with a TV-ready gaffe, when he said “the private sector is doing fine,” even though employment is growing slower than the population, and the formal unemployment rate recently nudged up to 8.2 percent. (WATCH: Obama says private sector ‘is doing fine’)

The statement is a “shocking claim,” said Ryan Williams, a spokesman for presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. “Incomes have fallen, energy prices have soared, record-level unemployment continues, and the middle class has been pushed to the brink [but] President Obama apparently thinks everything is just fine,” Williams said.

The Republican National Committee started a Twitter hashtag, #doingfine, and added “Solyndra is #doingfine,” and “Tom Barrett is #doingfine.”

“Big time gaffe,” said Ari Fleischer, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush.

The gaffe came the same day that the Republican National Committee released a video deriding Obama’s complaints about “economic headwinds.”

Democratic advocates played down the comment, and tried to highlight Romney’s campaign-trail gaffes. “Being called out of touch by a candidate who joked about being unemployed and said he likes to fire people is rich,” said a 1.17 p.m. EDT tweet from Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Obama’s campaign.

At the beginning of his press conference, Obama complained that the U.S. economy has been slowed by layoffs of state employees. But those layoffs are a small factor in the nation’s stalled economy, and they haven’t prompted much complaint from swing-voters in a stalled economy.

On June 5, for example, Obama’s Democratic allies lost their Wisconsin recall election despite widespread Democratic complaints about state-level cutbacks.

Obama also showed his weakness when he called for the debt-ridden European governments — especially Germany — to increase spending, and when he danced around a question about recent intelligence leaks that have painted the White House as tough on Iran.

He urged Congress to pass some of his job-boosting bills, but provided no evidence that he could push the bills through a skeptical Congress. “There’s no excuse for not passing these ideas,” he complained.

He only took a handful of questions and provided long, meandering answers that took up time. He didn’t seek a question from the tougher White House reporters, including ABC’s Jake tapper and Fox’s Ed Henry.

The surprise press event was only announced at 8.51 a.m. EDT.

Amid criticism from congressional and national security officials, Obama denounced leaks of intelligence information to the press, and promised investigations.

But he didn’t claim that his deputies had asked the media not to publish recent articles about U.S. cyber-attacks on Iran or the White House’s process for striking terrorist targets with drone-carried missiles.

Obama called for increased European deficit spending, saying the U.S. economy had been hurt by Europe’s economic turmoil. “This matters to us because Europe is our largest trading partner,” Obama said.

But his demand underlined the failure of his high-pressure pitch to Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G8 summit in Camp David., Md.

At the summit, Obama allied with progressive leaders to pressure Merkel into promising more spending. She refused, partly because Germany’s population is opposed to any policy that makes them liable for the debt of other European countries.

At the press conference, Obama also called for a stronger Europe-wide government, and urged voters in near-bankrupt Greece to accept new European-devised rules in a pending June 17 election.

“It is in everyone’s interest for Greece to remain in the Eurozone… the Greek people have to realize that their hardships will likely be worse if they choose to exit,” he said. That call will undermine Obama’s claim to leadership if Greek voters reject the euro on June 17.

Obama’s complaints about Europe prompted Republican advocate Doug Heye to compare Obama to a character in the “South Park” cartoon. “South Park: Blame Canada! President Obama: Blame Europe – and add more spending!,” he tweeted after the press event.

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