Tuesday’s White House Press Briefing was a welcome reprieve as Fox News’s Peter Doocy found himself with more than a few colleagues willing to join him in grilling Press Secretary Jen Psaki as ten reporters (including Doocy) lobbed one question after another about Texas Democrats fleeing Austin for Washington D.C. and triggering a superspreader of coronavirus cases.
By the time Doocy spoke, he was the third reporter to inquire about how Texas Democrats have spread COVID on both Capitol Hill and in the White House. Doocy, however, went where his colleagues wouldn’t with the use of the word superspreader.
“More than 10 percent of the traveling party with these Texas Democrats now claim to have a breakthrough case. Is there any concern that this trip that was intended to advocate for voting rights is now a superspreader event in Washington,” he asked.
An abrasive Psaki griped “that’s not a characterization we’re making from here,” but rather insisted that these “breakthrough cases” among unvaccinated individuals was proof that vaccines work in preventing from “death,” “hospitalization,” or even “serious illness” (which is entirely correct).
Doocy’s second of four questions focused on whether Texas Democrats should face blowback for their behavior: “Now that COVID-19, after contact with those Democrats, has reached the White House, what is your message to these Texas Democrats?”
Shamelessly, Psaki replied that the message shouldn’t be that their behavior led to people getting sick, but it should be one of “thanks for standing up for voting rights, and the rights of Americans to have their voices heard at the voting booth.”
Doocy’s other two questions touched on whether the administration would support or even call for the return to mask mandates (click “expand”):
DOOCY: And certain places are bringing mask mandates back now, including for vaccinated people. What does President Biden think about that?
PSAKI: Well Peter, we know that some employers, hospitals, health systems, colleges and universities, which we’ve seen put in place mask mandates, some large and small employers have chosen to take this step. That’s entirely appropriate. That’s their decision to make. That’s not an initiative where we’re instituting from the federal government, but we know that companies, private sector employees, health institutions, educational institutions, will take steps in order to keep the people in their community safe.
DOOCY: Six months ago, the President asked Americans to wear masks for 100 days. As the delta variant spreads, is there a possibility that he’s going to make a similar ask down the line?
PSAKI: Well, nothing has changed with the guidance that we are providing to the American public. If you are vaccinated, you do not need to wear a mask. If you are not vaccinated, the public health officials from the federal government recommend you wear a mask. Anything we would determine would be guided by our health and medical experts.
As we stated earlier, Doocy wasn’t the first to bring up the cases. The Associated Press’s Aamer Madhani kicked off the Q&A requesting confirmation “that a White House official has also tested positive” and whether the cases would hinder the ability of Texas Democrats to meet with President Biden.
NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell came next and asked for specific numbers of “breakthrough” cases “among the White House staff,” whether Psaki would be “publicly confirming cases...in the future,” and if there would be changes in protocols for interacting with the President and Vice President.
As usual, Psaki’s answers were no more than word salad.
CBS’s Ed O’Keefe went after Doocy and stayed on the case as he got Psaki to admit that the Biden administration had covered up previous coronavirus cases within their ranks (click “expand”)
O’KEEFE: So, I just want to back up here to this breakthrough case here at The White House.
O’KEEFE: You confirmed today there’s been a breakthrough case.
O’KEEFE: But you’re also confirming there have been other breakthrough cases.
O’KEEFE: But you had not previously disclosed that there had been.
PSAKI: And that’s correct. We had also committed during the transition that I think there’s hundreds, thousands of people who work on the federal government, as you all know. And we had committed during the transition that if it was a commissioned officer, who are the highest level ranking people in the White House and in this building here, that we would make that information publicly available. We stand by that commitment.
O’KEEFE: So if it’s anyone below that, you don’t feel the need to let people know?
PSAKI: Well again, that’s the commitment we made. I’m here talking to all of you today and sharing with you information about the individual who has — who has received a positive test yesterday.
ABC’s Rachel Scott tried to get an answer to O’Donnell’s query about the total number of administration officials contracting the virus, but Psaki passed the buck by saying she’d “be happy to check on the status of that.”
A little after Reuters’s Nandita Bose unsuccessfully inquired about whether breakthrough cases would increase vaccine hesitancy, NPR’s Tamara Keith tried to get answers about further transmission, the number of commissioned military officers in the White House, and whether the cases “create a messaging challenge for this White House to have breakthrough infections.”
In response to those questions, Psaki either deflected, said she’d get back to her, or reiterated that the country is actually doing quite well in terms of vaccinations among adults. Further, she suggested that those vaccinated shouldn’t be getting worked up (as some have) over the delta variant.
CBS News Radio White House correspondent and White House Correspondents Association President Steven Portnoy took O’Keefe’s strategy of asking short and rapidfire questions about the cases, but Psaki wouldn’t budge other than to say the cases do not include a commissioned officer.
To see the relevant transcript from July 20's briefing, click here.