The disappointing report Wednesday that economic growth ground to a halt in 2015's first quarter came at a terrible time for a White House increasingly demanding credit for engineering a turnaround of the economy.
For President Obama, the challenge now is convincing the public that a 0.2-percent annual growth rate is a speed bump rather than an indication of larger problems he insisted his policies have put in the rearview mirror.
Critics have accused Obama of overselling the level of economic progress on his watch, something they say became more pronounced as he entered legacy mode.
Citing a combination of declining exports, cheaper oil and a brutal winter, the White House attempted to downplay the report as a seasonal anomaly, one that would be long forgotten as the U.S. enters a busier spending summer and the president makes headway toward a major trade deal with Pacific Rim nations.
However, some economists and political allies of the president cautioned against the White House's completely dismissing concerns about stalled growth — and the weakest quarter in a year.
"It does belie the fact we are a long way into the recovery and we don't quite feel recovered," Daraius Irani, an economist at Towson University, told the Washington Examiner. "It feels like a tie game, but we're not winning anything right now. If you start digging through the numbers, the jobs weren't as good as they once were, and the jobs being created are on the lower end of wages."
If the administrative response to a poor first quarter sounds familiar, that's because it's basically identical to the White House's framing of the same measure from the Bureau of Economic Analysis at this time last year.
"Today's GDP estimate is subject to a number of notable influences, including historically severe winter weather, which temporarily lowered growth in the first quarter," Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said last April.
On Wednesday, he again blamed the weather for the GDP findings.
"As measured by heating degree days, this quarter was the third coldest in 20 years. Indeed, winter weather likely reduced both consumption and investment, contributing to this quarter's below-trend output growth," he said.
Such reasoning has been missing from Obama's economic message of late. The president argues that his approach has been validated by improving public perceptions of the economy, painting GOP naysayers as removed from reality.
White House officials have privately suggested that disastrous midterms in 2014 might have gone differently for Democrats had a recent uptick in consumer confidence materialized earlier.
"Now that their grand predictions of doom and gloom, and death panels and Armageddon haven't come true — the sky hasn't fallen, Chicken Little is quiet," Obama told Democrats in February. "You got to walk the walk. We've been walking the walk."
In recent months, however, analysts pointed to weaker consumer spending, a slowdown in new-home construction and waning manufacturing production as areas of concern. And the job growth that previously overshadowed those trends abated in March, with the economy adding just 129,000 jobs that month. January and February numbers were also revised down.
The White House tried Wednesday to frame the discouraging findings in a way that was advantageous to the president's broader agenda.
Obama aides highlighted the dip in U.S. exports in 2015's first quarter to promote the president's efforts to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact among 12 Pacific Rim nations. Democrats are particularly wary of the trade deal and have balked at attempts to give the president so-called fast track authority to finalize the arrangement.
In an atypical twist, the Republican response mirrored the White House's, as conservatives attempted to elevate the issue of trade.
"Americans across the country are living with an economy that takes one step forward followed by two steps back," argued House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. "Particularly disappointing in today's report is that trade fell by 7.2 percent in the first quarter… [The] disappointing GDP report underscores the need for a more dynamic economy."
And some Democrats said Obama should take a clear lesson from the setback.
"Don't get too cocky," said one Democratic strategist, offering unsolicited advice to the White House. "That might be the greatest mistake they could make right now."