A mixed jobs report Friday was received as partial vindication by both parties, as President Obama declared that a positive "trend is clear" and Republican called for more spending cuts.
"The pace of hiring is beginning to pick up," Obama said at Thompson Creek Manufacturing in Landover, Md. "We're also seeing more optimistic economic forecasts for the year ahead.
The nation's unemployment rate dropped to 9.4 percent in December, down from 9.8 percent, according to the Labor Department. A total of 103,000 jobs were added to the economy -- fewer than many economists had predicted.
Obama used the occasion to announce his appointment of former Clinton administration economic adviser Gene Sperling as director of the National Economic Council -- part of a larger, ongoing revitalization of his West Wing and economic teams.
"Gene has been an extraordinary asset to me and this administration over the past two years," Obama said. "He led our efforts to pass the small business jobs bill to help companies all across America."
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio called the jobs report "encouraging" but said Americans want better economic policies, not "new faces" at the White House.
"Any signs of job growth are encouraging, but 9.4 percent unemployment and a $14 trillion debt are by no means adequate to get our economy growing," Boehner said.
Even so, the glimmer of good news for Obama on the issue of top concern for most voters gave Democrats a spark of hope that the economy may finally be turning a corner.
"There's no question 2010 was a pretty rough year for him politically," said Democratic strategist Keir Murray. "The forecast about jobs and stocks right now are fairly bullish, I think he has reason to be cautiously optimistic."
While the president was waxing hopeful in suburban Maryland, House Republicans launched their effort to repeal his signature health care reform measure.
White House officials are hoping that positive economic progress will finally persuade voters that Obama's policies are working -- and that Republican priorities are out of step. But some believe it is too soon to say.
"Job growth is really a longer term thing," said John Fortier, a political scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "The real question is what happens over the next year and a half -- if there is progress, it's good. If not, he's in trouble."
In Landover, the president toured Thompson Creek, a private company that manufactures energy efficient windows and doors, among other products, and donned safety goggles to observe workers framing windows and a welder.
The company credits recent growth in part to tax credits in Obama's American Recovery & Reinvestment Act -- the official name for the stimulus program -- that delivered a benefit to homeowners who upgraded to energy-efficient products.