Without someone from the Daily Caller, the Fox News Channel, or Real Clear Politics’s Philip Wegmann in the room, the White House reporters seated for Tuesday’s briefing refused to follow up on Wegmann’s attempt from Monday to ask Press Secretary Jen Psaki about former Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly selling out Israel to his friends in the terrorist-loving Iran.
Instead, two reporters asked questions from the left as they touted a Human Rights Watch report blasting Israel as an apartheid state and purposefully treating Palestinians to a life of ruin. Iran was definitely on the mind of at least some in the room as one journalist levied four questions about the progress of talks involving the resumption of the Iran nuclear deal.
The Associated Press’s Josh Boak opened the Q&A portion and brought up this Israel smear from the left-wing activist group:
[A] report came out today from Human Rights Watch about Israel, saying that Israel is guilty of international crimes of apartheid and persecution because of discriminatory policies were Palestinians. Israel has rejected that characterization. Does the White House think the report is accurate or inaccurate?
Psaki demurred on the report, saying the claims of apartheid do not represent “the view of this administration” and “the State Department has its own rigorous process for making atrocity determinations and reports on human rights abuse issues globally on an annual basis through the Human Rights report that they issue.”
TVA News’s Richard Latendresse tried again later in the briefing, which allowed Psaki to expand on her previous answer (click “expand”):
LATENDRESSE: I want to try to Josh’s question again about the Human Rights –
LATENDRESSE: – the – the – the – yeah, the Human Rights report on the treatment of Palestinians by Israel and the abuses that they underline. It’s a very thorough report. You said – and the fact that the U.S. has turned a blind eye to what’s happening over there. That’s what they say. That’s what they say. You said that, in the foreign – in the – in the President’s speech tomorrow, there’s going to be a foreign policy section and he’s going to talk about what are our values. Do you consider that the treatment of Palestinians by Israel correspond to American values?
PSAKI: Well, I would say that the United States is committing to promoting respect for human rights in Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We have an enduring partner – we also have an enduring partnership with Israel and discuss a wide range of issues with the Israeli government, including those related to human rights. So, I was really conveying – or responding specifically to Josh’s question, but it’s important to reiterate that, so appreciate you giving me the opportunity to do that.
In yet another missed opportunity to rope in the Kerry story, Reuters’s Steve Holland was one of the six reporters to receive a second round of questions and inquired about the state of talks in Vienna, Austria about the Iran’s nuclear program.
Back on Monday, Wegmann had tried to ask Psaki about the report in The New York Times that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Kerry told him about the number of Israeli attacks against them, but Psaki refused to answer because the claims came from “leaked tapes.”
If this were a Trump controversy, it’s a guarantee reporters would continue to ask questions of the press secretary with the Comey memo serving as just one example. But since their friends are back in power, journalists decided to skimp on this newsworthy topic.
One other (but unrelated) exchange of note, EWTN’s Owen Jensen was on hand and inquired about when Biden would announce an ambassador to the Holy See (otherwise known as the Vatican), the federal government’s use of fetal tissue in medical research, and Title IX’s religious exemption.
Here was the back-and-forth on the latter two questions (click “expand”):
JENSEN: Next question, as you well know, the administration just lifted the ban on research as using fetal tissue from elective abortions and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – the leaders of the President’s own faith – said in reaction it is deeply offensive “to millions of Americans for our tax dollars to be used for research that collaborates with an industry built on the taking of innocent lives.” How does the White House respond to that criticism?
PSAKI: Look, I think the White House specific – or respectfully disagrees and we believe that it’s important to invest in science and look for opportunities to cure diseases and I think that's what this is hopeful to do. [TO FRANCESCA CHAMBERS] Go ahead. [TO JENSEN] Oh, go ahead.
JENSEN: Okay, you may be aware of this. The LGBTQ – LGBTQ community is suing U.S. Department of education saying – they say the religious exemption rule under Title IX is unconstitutional. I don't know if you’re familiar with that case. But what is the administration's response to that? In other words, will you stand behind that religious exemption?
PSAKI: I’ll have to check with our legal team. Generally speaking, we support LGBTQ rights and believe that, especially for children and children should be able to play sports. including children and members of the LGBTQ community, of course.
JENSEN: That religious exemption the White House stands behind?
PSAKI: I don't have anything more on it. I’ll check with our team.