Friday’s White House briefing sent Press Secretary Jen Psaki into the weekend on another pesky note as she offered a litany of non-answers and snarky comebacks at reporters who asked questions about Antifa, coronavirus relief, immigration, schools, and the administration’s beloved teachers unions.
The New York Post’s Steven Nelson was the reporter who got under Psaki’s skin even though his questions were anything but antagonistic. He started with this one about whether Biden would urge teachers to return to schools: “Will President Biden use the power of the bully pulpit to help cajole teachers who are unwilling to go back to schools to go back?”
Since doing that would require crossing a key Democratic Party special interest group in unions, Psaki was quite displeased, informing Nelson that she would “reject the premise of the question” because she personally has “teachers in my family” and that teachers would be “the first people to tell you that being — teaching in the classroom....makes their job more enjoyable” and “effective.”
Psaki offered standard talking points about their commitment to reopening safely, how the CDC guidance on schools has yet to come out (despite comments from the CDC director), and that the way to reopen “safely” is to do what the White House wants and pass their $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
Nelson sought a quick clarification, but again, Psaki responded with condescension:
NELSON: It sounded like a yes with an asterisk if they can open safely?
PSAKI: If you — if you are the spokesperson for the White House, you can certainly say that, but you are not. But you can ask me another question.
His second question was about a September 2020 Justice Department and OMB decision to label New York, Portland, and Seattle as having, according to the DOJ release at the time, “permitted violence and destruction of property to persist,” but Psaki ignored it because those concern agencies that, in her view, have nothing to do with the administration.
Nelson’s last one involved Hunter Biden and, once again, Psaki refused to provide anything close to substance (click “expand”):
NELSON: And the third — the third, more meaty question. If I could just follow up on a quote from the President in December. He said: “My son, my family will not be involved in my business, any enterprise that is in conflict with or appears to be in conflict with where there’s appropriate distance from the presidency and government.” Just recently there were reports that the President's son still owns a 10 percent stake in a Chinese investment firm with state-owned entities. Do you have an update on the divestment from that investment?
PSAKI: Ah, he has been working to unwind his investment. But I would certainly point to you — he's a private citizen. I would point you to him or his lawyers on the outside on any update.
Bloomberg’s Nancy Cook, however, was quite the opposite. In her second question, Cook sucked up to Psaki by inviting her to comment on any “lessons” Biden and his team are “draw[ing]...from” dating back to the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent stimulus package.
Cook’s follow-up to that was also partisan: “And it seems like part of that lesson is to not wait for Republicans forever. It seems like you want to move quickly.”
A few minutes later, Newsmax’s Emerald Robinson first cornered Psaki on immigration, pointing out that the administration wants to increase immigration amid a pandemic, travel restrictions for Americans traveling to and from the U.S., and “continued unemployment.”
If you were thinking Psaki would have answered that in full, think again. Instead, she promoted their $1.9 trillion package and that Americans and immigrants would be subjected to health measures (which, as we’ve seen at the border, isn’t the case).
Robinson then pivoted to inviting Psaki to speak on what the administration would define as “domestic terror” seeing as how they haven’t made much of an effort (aside from briefings) to talk about left-wing violence from groups like Antifa (click “expand”):
ROBINSON: Jake Sullivan mentioned the focus on domestic terrorism yesterday for this administration.. I think a lot of people want to know how does this administration define the term “domestic terrorist.”
PSAKI: In what way?
ROBINSON: Well, does that include Antifa, specifically? What — how do you set those parameters for domestic terror, especially as we see, you know, a lot of focus on the January 6th and not much focus on some of the extremism and violence in the — the northwest?
PSAKI: Well, I've answered a version of this question a couple of times before. But I know not everyone’s in the briefing room everyday. The reason we have review, which is not a political review but is a review done by our national security team, something tasked again to take a review of domestic violence extremism, will cover incidents across the board. When they have concluded that review, I’m sure they'll have more to say on it.
And thanks to Nelson’s questions and Psaki’s non-answers, NBC’s Kristen Welker and USA Today’s Joey Garrison saw it fit to see for themselves if Psaki would break and give an answer about school reopenings (click “expand”):
WELKER: I'd like to follow up on the issue of school reopenings. Dr. Walensky had said at a previous briefing that there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that they can safely reopen without teachers getting vaccinated. You then said the official CDC guidance is not out yet. But there is some urgency to this because schools are making their decisions right now about how and when to reopen. So, does the Biden administration have an assessment today about whether schools can reopen with or without teachers getting vaccinated?
PSAKI: Well, first, the guidance will come officially from the CDC as Dr. Walensky, who leads the CDC, would certainly convey to you. And what we're all conveying and what I just did a few minutes ago is convey that there's a lot of data that shows that it is — of course, we're looking at vaccines. That's an important part of keeping teachers and — and the American public safe but we also need to look at other mitigation steps, I should say, including masking, social distancing, proper ventilation in schools, and the urgency should prompt Democrats and Republicans — many Democrats are — to come together support the American Rescue Plan to get schools funding they need. Schools are planning but many of them don’t have the funding they need to take the steps necessary they need to reopen.
WELKER: Do you know when CDC specifically is going to put out that guidance?
PSAKI: I would certainly point you to the CDC for more specifics on that.
GARRISON: Follow up on the several questions about school reopenings, does the White House believe — you know, schools are contemplating this right now whether to go back and reopen their schools, does White House believe that they should hold off on reopening until the CDC guidelines are out and until the American Rescue Plan is passed?
PSAKI: Well, I think some schools are looking for that guidance and also looking for funding. Obviously, different jurisdictions make decisions. But we are hopeful that when the CDC guidelines are out, that will provide some advice — or from a medical — more than that, specific guidance from our health and medical team, the expertise of Dr. Walensky and her team on exactly what mitigation steps can and should be taken to reopen safely.
GARRISON: But for schools, at the moment right now, weighing whether they should reopen, you don’t have a recommendation one way or the other? Just wait for the guidelines? Just trying to clarify.
PSAKI: I won't get ahead of what the guidelines are. I think there are different jurisdictions that make different decisions. A lot of school districts are certainly waiting for those guidelines but also waiting for additional funding so they can reopen schools safely, make sure teachers are safe, students are safe, and families can feel confident in their kids being at school.
When the White House has establishment liberal media outlets such as NBC hammering them about school reopenings and teachers unions, that’s never a good sign and, as the White House continues to show its fealty to the unions, the questions will only continue.