Thursday featured the first White House press briefing in nearly a week (due to President Joe Biden’s travel schedule), and so Fox’s Peter Doocy made the most of it by grilling Press Secretary Jen Psaki over the origins of the coronavirus, the Biden administration allowing Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline to go through, and Middle East violence.
The FNC reporter wasn’t alone in asking the tough questions as CNN’s Kaitlan Collins joined in on Nord Stream 2, RCP’s Philip Wegmann asking about s-corporations, and the Daily Caller’s Shelby Talcott citing anti-Israel rhetoric from some of Biden’s fellow Democrats.
Doocy led off with COVID by wondering whether the administration has a response to claims from House Republicans that they have “significant circumstantial evidence” that the virus came from a lab. He also wondered if the White House would support increased pressure on the Chinese to allow for further investigations.
Psaki refused to commit to anything, saying she “would caution you against disproving a negative there, which is never the responsible approach in our view when it comes to getting to the bottom of the root causes” of the pandemic, adding that the U.S. has pressed China privately and publicly on the lack of transparency.
Afterward, leftists rushed to Twitter to defend the communist, genocidal regime in China.
Doocy then switched to the Russian pipeline to Germany, telling her “there’s a lot of talk about Nord Stream and Keystone, and I’m just trying to help our — help people understand” how allowing the former wouldn’t “undermine U.S. climate leadership” like Biden did when he killed the former on environmental grounds.
Psaki hilariously claimed “we’re hardly letting any country or other countries build Nord Stream 2” and they had no option other than to “convey that we believe it’s a bad — a bad idea, a bad plan” because “[w]hen the President took office, 95 percent of this pipeline was built.”
Reacting to Psaki’s answer that amounted to little more than a shrug emoji, Doocy continued to press and focused on the lack of sanctions (click “expand”):
DOOCY: So a lot of concerns, and it seemed like there was the ability by the U.S. government to sanction some officials to stop the project at, like, 95 percent. But you’re not doing that, and I’m just wondering —
PSAKI: In what way were we going to be able to stop a project in another country that’s had — been built 95 percent?
DOOCY: — or make it more difficult — make it more difficult with the sanctions on some of these officials involved.
PSAKI: Well, we have imposed sanctions on four Russian entities, four Russian vessels that engaged in sanctionable activities. We’ve also imposed sanctions on nine vessels belonging to the Russian government. This is the largest number of entities listed under this act to date. So we have certainly taken significant steps and we’ve also made clear, in public and private channels, our opposition to this plan.
Doocy wrapped with a series of questions about U.S. policy towards Israel and specifically arm sales and what the fighting (and attempts to stop it) says about President Biden’s foreign policy.
Collins came two reporters later and she included Nord Stream 2 as one of her topics, wondering: “[W]hat are the national security reasons for waiving the sanctions on the company and the CEO behind Nord Stream 2?”
Psaki punted to the State Department and reiterated her talking points to Doocy, so Collins tried again.
This time, however, Psaki admitted their stance on the deal boiled down to the U.S.’s “important, vital relationship with leaders in Germany” as the country has maintained its support for the deal with Putin’s Russia.
Of course, Collins’s exchanged never made it on-air (as of this blog’s publication) with the only Thursday mentions of the pipeline having come from CNN’s Early Start and New Day.
Later on, Wegmann asked Psaki about Biden having an s-corporation despite the fact that the Obama administration had criticized them as a way to skirt paying more in taxes (click “expand”):
WEGMANN: On taxes again —
WEGMANN: — the President has called on the wealthy to pay their fair share. I’m wondering if the President would like to see reforms, so the way the S-corporations are treated given that the Obama administration said that those corporate structures could sometimes be used as loopholes. And yet, President Biden, between 2017 and 2020, used an S-corporation, according to his tax returns and reporting in Bloomberg, to avoid paying nearly $500,000 in self-employment taxes.
PSAKI: Well, I will say first that he received no income from a CelticCapri in 2020, which is the S-corp and it’s dormant and it will not be engaging in any business other than to receive potential royalties, which would relate to books he has already written and of course, as you know, you only know about this because the President released his tax returns, which has long been history — historic precedent even if it wasn’t over the last several years. In terms of additional tax reform proposals, I don’t have any to announce for you today. I would note that the President paid a higher rate than most high income individuals and most corporations around the country.
Following Wegmann, Talcott brought up a small sample of incendiary, anti-Israel comments from Squad members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and whether Biden “specifically denounce[s] these comments.”
When Psaki ducked the question and talked about the need for an end to the bloodshed, Talcott fired off this follow-up:
[B]ut there is infighting between Democrats and one of President Biden’s big messages is unity. So what is being done to unify his own party on this issue? And how has this infighting not hurting that message of unity?
Of course, Psaki refused to engage or budge from her talking points.
To see Wegmann’s questions on the Colonial pipeline and Iran plus a question from The Wall Street Journal’s Catherine Lucey on Texas’s new abortion law, click “expand.”
White House press briefing (via ABC News Live)
May 20, 2021
1:38 p.m. Eastern
CATHERINE LUCEY: The Texas governor yesterday signed an abortion law that bans the procedure at six weeks.
JEN PSAKI: Yep.
LUCEY: What specifically is the White House looking to do and what specific steps will the White House take take to try and protect abortion access?
PSAKI: Well, first as you noted, but for others who haven’t followed this as closely, this is the most restrictive measure yet in the nation and the most restrictive recent assault on women’s fundamental rights under Roe v. Wade and critical rights continue to come under withering and extreme attack around the country. The President and Vice President are devoted to ensuring that every American has access to healthcare now more than ever. He continues to support the robust agenda he put forward during the campaign to protect women’s fundamental rights, including by codifying Roe v. Wade. Obviously, there are some actions that will be through legal processes and through the courts. Those are decisions for the Department of Justice and others to make, but certainly the President supports and believes we should codify Roe v. Wade and that is his view regardless of these backward-looking steps that are being taken by states in the country.
1:44 p.m. Eastern
PHILIP WEGMANN: And then another one with regards to the question of what’s happening currently in the Middle East, I know that you touched on, you know, the Iran nuclear deal, but there’s reporting earlier that the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard said that the rocket attacks from Palestine hitting Israel was a sign of “a new Palestine.” I’m wondering if that type of rhetoric coming out of Iran has any effect on the President’s eagerness to rejoin the treaty, the Iran nuclear agreement and sort of if there is any interplay between those two spheres —
PSAKI: I think it’s important to be very clear. Iran is — they are bad actors and they’re bad actors in the region and we — that — that is very clear. That is our position. However, we believe, the President believes that it is in the best interest of the United States and in the best interest of countries in the region to have more visibility into Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and to prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
WEGMANN: Can I ask you one more on the Colonial Pipeline?
WEGMANN: Has the President been briefed on any intelligence suggesting that the DarkSide hacking group, which claim responsibility, operates under the indirect supervision of any Russian intelligence services? Is there any relationship that we have seen?
PSAKI: I think the President was clear last week in what the intelligence assessment is about the Russian government’s involvement or knowledge of the hacking. At the same time, they are a criminal entity that is on Russian soil and therefore they have a responsibility.