When there’s a White House press briefing in which the press corps doesn’t appear friendly with the Biden administration, you know it was a tough day at the office. Tuesday’s briefing was one of those rare days as Fox’s Peter Doocy was joined by over a half dozen colleagues in asking tough questions Press Secretary Jen Psaki refused to answer about the return of masks, even for vaccinated Americans.
The Associated Press’s Alexandra Jaffe didn’t wait for Doocy, leading off the Q&A by wondering “how will the White House get Americans to start wearing masks when they’ve gone for more than two months without them,” and if it was a mistake to say July 4 all but marked our “independence” from the virus.
After Psaki insisted we must respect CDC scientists and remember that we’re living in unprecedented times, Jaffe followed up by questioning whether the back-and-forth was “wise...considering [this] could make it tougher for Americans to take” the pandemic “seriously.”
Psaki’s answer undermined the edict to mask up, insisting that everyone should get vaccinated to be “protected from serious illness or hospitalization” while the government does what’s best “to protect more people and save more lives.”
A few minutes later, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell’s second question about the virus was short but pointed: “Is the summer of freedom, as the President described it, is that still operative now given the change in the Delta variant?”
Psaki again illustrated the lunacy of the decision, putting behind her quotes from certain states about how the unvaccinated make up almost all of those hospitalized with the virus.
But besides Doocy (as we’ll see shortly), CBS’s Weijia Jiang was the most effective, starting with the fact that “[t]he CDC data showed though on July 6th that the Delta variant was the prominent strain, 51.7 percent of cases” and, if the CDC was concerned about the virus, “what took so long” to make this change.
Psaki refused to answer, lecturing about the Biden administration’s desire to have “guidance is based on the public health experts and what they are advising in terms of steps that should be taken” and, while we have to mask up again, it’s imperative to get vaccinated.
Weijia continued pressing, pointing out the disconnect from the last few months and stating the obvious about the “whiplash” the American people have found themselves in (click “expand”):
JIANG: But the President’s message was get vaxxed or masked, and now it’s get vaxxed and masked in some cases. So does he regret sending the message that it was a binary choice there?
PSAKI: Well, Weijia, I think that those comments were back in May and as I noted at the time, the Delta variant was a — by no means a — the variant that it is today. It was not even a — I can look at this specific data, but it was — 99 percent of cases were not Delta at the time. That was based on guidance from the CDC. Today, they’re changing their guidance, they’re changing their advice to the American public, their public health advice, based on evolving data and an evolving historical guidance — variant — virus. That’s exactly what they should be doing.
JIANG: And what is your message to Americans who are feeling whiplash right now? Why should they trust the same group of health officials who just two months ago told them they don’t have to wear a mask anymore inside?
PSAKI: Because our goal is to save their lives and our responsibility and the responsibility of public health officials is to continue to provide updated guidance if it warrants from an evolving virus.
ABC’s Karen Travers took aim at the reality that a return to mask for vaccinated Americans could give unvaccinated Americans all the more reason to not get the shots:
[H]ow concerned is the White House that the message that unvaccinated Americans will hear after this afternoon is that even if you’re vaccinated, you now have to wear a mask in some settings and then just say, why bother then on the vaccine?
Psaki turned the tables back on the media, telling journalists to report the facts while Team Biden continued with their goal “to always lead with the science and...the advice of health and medical experts” with masking for the vaccinated being done “to protect yourself, protect your loved ones.”
Following an attempt from Reuters’s Nandita Bose to get a real answer to Travers’s question, it was finally Doocy’s turn.
On masks, his line of questioning included this scorcher about “why do vaccinated people need to put the masks back on” even though it’s become “a pandemic of the unvaccinated” (click “expand”):
DOOCY: And on the CDC guidance, why did the President say, “If you’ve been fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask. Let me repeat. If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask” if it was possible that that was going to turn out not to be true.
PSAKI: Well, Peter, I think we’re all dealing with an evolving virus where there’s no playbook and no historic precedent and what the American people should feel confident in is that we are going to continue to be guided by science, look at public health data in order to provide new guidance if it’s needed to save lives to protect the American people. When he made those comments back in May, we were dealing with a very different strain of the virus than we were — than we are today. And Delta’s more transmissible. It’s spreading much more quickly. It was nearly non-existent in the United States back in May.
DOOCY: And so my last one would be, you guys have been saying this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. If that is coming from the CDC, is the President satisfied with the leadership at the CDC right now?
PSAKI: The President is satisfied with the fact that they are continuing to look at public health data and provide public health guidance to the American public about how they can protect their lives, and the lives of loved ones around them.
DOOCY: And if it’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated still, then why do vaccinated people need to put the masks back on?
PSAKI: Well Peter, first of all, I would say again just to go back to this chart, which I will handily point to again.
DOOCY: Overwhelmingly unvaccinated.
PSAKI: If you were vaccinated, if you are vaccinated, it can save your life. And I think the clear data shows that this pandemic is killing, is hospitalizing, is making people very sick who are not vaccinated. That still continues to be the case, regardless of what the mask guidance looks like.
DOOCY: But the vaccines work which this sign says that they do, then why do people who’ve had the vaccine need to now wear masks the same as people who have not had it?
PSAKI: Because the public health leaders in our administration have made the determination based on data that that is a way to make sure they’re protected, their loved ones are protected. And that’s an extra step given the transmissibility of the virus that people — that they’re advising people to take.
One topic not yet touched on was the mask proclamation’s impact on the economy. Thankfully, The Wall Street Journal’s Ken Thomas jumped on that: “[D]oes the President’s economic team see any ramifications to this masking policy? Are they concerned at all that it could affect consumer spending or any of the economic projections?”
Psaki wouldn’t commit, saying “that’s a great question” with an answer that’s still unclear other than insisting the American Rescue Plan will continue to provide a backstop and, as of now, “[t]here’s no significant signs at this point of the Delta variants impact.”
And to close out the briefing, even CNN political analyst and Grio correspondent April Ryan had concerns about whether America’s “at a point where we are saying that there’s just no absolutes when it comes to what’s happening” considering the return of masks in what will be most of the country and concern about breakthrough cases.
Even if it’s coming from the left, it’s never a good day for a liberal regime when even April Ryan has concerns about your decision-making.
To see the relevant transcript from July 27's briefing, click here.