Monday’s White House press briefing provided a list of noteworthy moments as Press Secretary Jen Psaki was joined by DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, including a number of questions on scandal-plagued Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY). While Psaki continued to largely deflect, she had help as an Associated Press reporter wondered if Cuomo should resign to avoid unwanted “distractions” on COVID.
White House Correspondents Association head and AP correspondent Zeke Miller led off Psaki’s portion with one question wondering if the Biden administration had been in contact with Cuomo or his staff following the latest sexual harassment claims and if, more broadly, the negative headlines were distracting from fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
“And then is the President concerned that this could serve from Governor Cuomo's handling of the pandemic and should he potentially step aside while this investigation, so that there are no distractions handling the pandemic,” he wondered.
Psaki reemphazied the ironic premise that Biden’s “view has been consistent and clear, that every woman coming forward should be treated with dignity and respect” and thus they’ll “wait to see...through” the investigation by New York AG Letitia James (D).
A few minutes later, The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker was much tougher, pressing Psaki on what would Biden consider to be a “red line” when it comes to the harassment and mistreatment of women (and specifically between a boss and subordinate) (click “expand”):
PARKER: My question for you, in general, when it comes to sexual misconduct, where is the red line for this president and the administration? Is it only at unwanted physical overtures or is it at unwelcomed language between a boss and subordinate with a power differential?
PSAKI: Well, Ashley, as I — as O said yesterday, that story was incredibly uncomfortable to read as a am would. And we certainly believe every woman coming forward, Charlotte, Lindsey, have – should be treated with respect and dignity and be able to tell their story and treated with respect. There is a process of reviewing, as you noted, an independent investigation. We will leave it to that process through the attorney general to make a determination on the path forward.
PARKER: But just in general, not about this specific case, but can you explain — I mean, your White House discussed the resignation of someone who used simply language that was inappropriate and abusive. Is there a red line when it comes just to language or is President Biden's red line — does it have to be something else?
PSAKI: I’m not sure a red line for whom? I am not sure what you mean. For what outcome?
PARKER: For — if the review shows that governor Cuomo asked her questions. That it’s not — you know, as also has been alleged in other instances of forcible kiss or an unwelcomed physical overture, but just mere questions about someone's personal life or sex life or romantic life or anything that makes someone feel uncomfortable, especially in a subordinate relationship with someone in power, is that someone that has to resign or should there be other consequences? That’s what I mean by the red line.
PSAKI: Look, the — the language — the — you know, the President has a bar for what is expected in his administration, which you referenced. Treating people with civility, treating people with respect and that's what bar he holds in his administration. In terms of the path forward and the outcome of the investigation, we will leave it to the attorney general and others to conclude that.
Also on the topic of transparency, Real Clear Politics’ Philip Wegmann inquired about the White House release of virtual visitor logs (seeing as how they’re not taking as many in-person visitors due to the pandemic) as an act of “important” “transparency” that’d “be really easy to do,” but Psaki replied with snark.
She replied: “He's meeting with members of the senate virtually today. There. I’ve released it for you. What else would you like to know?”
If Kayleigh McEnany did that to, say, Jim Acosta, Resistance-types would have melted down.
After Fox News’s Peter Doocy’s week of news-making exchanges, Doocy’s colleague Kristin Fisher took a turn in the briefing room and likewise made an impact, pressing Mayorkas on his notion that there isn’t a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
And during Psaki’s portion, Fisher sought comment on former President Trump’s insistence Biden has sold his soul to teacher’s unions. On both counts, neither strayed from their talking points (click “expand”):
FISHER: Do you believe that right now there is a crisis at the border?
MAYORKAS: I think the — the answer is no. I think there is a challenge at the border that we are managing, and we have our resources dedicated to — to managing it.
FISHER: And so a lot of the things that you are talking about, you admit takes some time to implement but right now, you’ve got about 200 migrant children crossing the border every single day. CBP protected a peak of 1,000 unaccompanied children in the month of May, according to a report in Axios. What is being done between now and then when you’re able to implement all the things that you’re talking about that will say will take time?
MAYORKAS: Let me answer that with tremendous pride. The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are working around the clock, seven days a week, to ensure we do not have a crisis at the border, that we manage the challenge as acute as the challenge is, and they are not doing it alone. This is a challenge that the border communities, the non-governmental organizations, the people who care for individuals seeking humanitarian relief, all understand it is an imperative. Everyone understands what occurred before us, what we need to do now, and we are getting it done.
FISHER: Respectfully, sir, though, one of predecessors, Jeh Johnson — he said that 1,000 illegal border crossings a day constitutes a crisis, that it overwhelms the system. We’re at between 3,000 to 4,000 now, according to CBP officials. So, how is this not a crisis?
MAYORKAS: I have explained that quite clearly. We are challenged at the border. The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are meeting that challenge. It is a stressful challenge. And we are — that is why, quite frankly, we are working as hard as we are, not only in addressing the urgency of the challenge but also in building the capacity to manage it and to meet our humanitarian aspirations in execution of the President's vision.
FISHER: And one more question from former President Trump over the weekend speaking at CPAC —
PSAKI: I heard that. I heard he spoke there.
FISHER: He said — part of Joe Biden's sold out America's children to the teachers union. How has the white house responded to that?
PSAKI: I think we’re going to spend our time communicating to the agenda for the American people than responding to criticisms from the former president.
Speaking of Doocy, ABC’s Karen Travers followed a thread Doocy started last week about having reporters visit illegal immigrant detention facilities (read: cages or, as Nick Fondacaro has dubbed them, “kiddie kennels”) because HHS denied requests for reporters to visit them under the guise “of COVID restrictions.”
Travers took that to Mayorkas, who said he’d “happy to take a look at that,” and proceeded to wax poetic about the greatness of the media:
I will share with you something — another principle to which I intend to adhere throughout my tenure and that's openness and transparency and that includes the — I grew up as a journalism student but apparently, I wasn't a good enough writer to make it the whole way. Let me share with you what I communicate to the workforce and we'll leave it at that because it's in the service of openness and transparency: Don't shrink from criticism. Just work very hard not to deserve it.
Good call, Mr. Secretary. If you don’t feel like answering questions, just suck up to liberal journalists and, next thing you know, they’ll be eating out of your hand.