After almost an entire week away on vacation (aside from an August 23 briefing), The Psaki Show hasn’t exactly gone swimmingly for the Biden administration and, like Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday was no exception as Press Secretary Jen Psaki had little in the way of friendly reporter questions as Fox’s Peter Doocy had the cavalry on his side in pressing on issues surrounding the collapse of Afghanistan.
In Doocy’s case, he called out Biden cracking a joke about the humanitarian disaster, why did Biden spend so much time on Tuesday talking about his Build Back Better, and does the U.S. still have a policy of not negotiating with terrorists since we’ve had to lob constant pleas at the Taliban to not attack U.S. troops or those fleeing the country.
Doocy led off with how Biden had brushed aside NBC reporter Peter Alexander’s Afghanistan question hours earlier during a pool spray about cybersecurity by saying this when asked what he’d do for Americans still in Afghanistan after the August 31 deadline: “You’ll be the first person I call!”
Doocy posed a simple question: “So, what’s so funny?”
Psaki insisted that Alexander’s question was whether he had made a decision about extending the deadline, but Doocy pushed back that this was something that’s “very important to a lot of people…watching.”
Psaki countered that Biden takes this very seriously, so Doocy moved on with whether Biden spending so much of his Tuesday speech on the Democratic infrastructure plan was a sign he viewed that “as urgent and as time-sensitive as this evacuation of Americans and Afghan friendlies from Kabul.”
The White House spokeswoman said people need to remember “that we have to do multiple things at the same time” and thus, along with the collapse of Afghanistan, “it’s important to the American people…whether they’re going to have jobs” or child care.
The FNC correspondent wrapped with his ponderance about negotiating with terrorists (click “expand”)
DOOCY: And the next one, just — as these negotiations about safe passage for Americans and SIV holders continue, why haven't we heard the president say, “the United States does not negotiate with terrorists?” Is that still the U.S. policy?
PSAKI: Well, of course it is, Peter, but I would also say that there's a reality that the Taliban is currently controlling large swaths of Afghanistan. That is a reality on the ground and right now our focus and our priority is getting American citizens evacuated and our Afghan partners evacuated and I would say given the numbers that we're outlined and briefed for you that we've made a great deal in progress in doing just that.
Again, Doocy continued to have plenty of company in asking hard questions.
The AP’s Aamer Madhani batted lead-off by calling out the “disconnect” between veterans and refugee groups who’ve run counter to the administration’s claims that the Taliban had largely abided by “its commitment to allow people with the right papers onto the airport.”
To this, Psaki hit back that she “wouldn’t see it as a disconnect” since 19,000 people have been evacuated over a 24-hour period with “the vast majority” being Afghans.
CBS’s Nancy Cordes had some basic questions that have continued to go unanswered, such as how will the U.S. keep its commitment to “to helping Americans and Afghans” and “safeguard” them after August 31 “if the military is gone.”
And on immigration, she posed to Psaki the reality that it’s going to take some time for an already exhausted immigration system to properly vet the “at least 70,000 Afghans that have been evacuated.”
Following Doocy’s go-around, Bloomberg’s Justin Sink was inspired to follow up on his negotiating question to see whether the U.S. had “offered the Taliban anything in terms of cash or supplies” for allowing people to get to the airport. Psaki adamantly denied this, saying there’s no “quid pro quo.”
Reuters’s Andrea Shalal probably didn’t mean to fire off a hardball when she asked Psaki for her thoughts about a group of California students and parents trapped in Afghanistan as part of a summer trip, but it became one when Psaki admitted she didn’t know anything about it.
Skip ahead and, besides Doocy’s questions, CNN’s Phil Mattingly had a question that should have been asked days (if not over a week) ago, which concerned the need for the administration to flesh out what they’ve implied in talking about Americans and Afghans who want to leave versus those who don’t. And in addition, the Daily Caller’s Shelby Talcott touched on this towards the end of the briefing (click “expand”):
MATTINGLY: You know, you guys have been very clear in stating these numbers are Americans that want to leave. There are clearly Americans, many of them dual citizens, who are perhaps choosing not to leave. What is the level of concern inside the administration about dual citizens or American citizens who chose to stay in the country at this point?
PSAKI: Well, I know this is very hard to understand for many people sitting here and I think this is why you’re asking this question — or not sitting here, even. I should say people who watch your — watch your shows or read your newspaper but the — many, many of the people we suspect — many of the people — these 1,000 contacts — are dual citizens. Some as Secretary Blinken noted are people who may not be ready to leave for a variety of reasons. Maybe they have an extended family, extended family there. Maybe they’ve spent their entire lives in Afghanistan and they have not yet made the decision to depart. Maybe they’re working on a range of projects they are not ready the leave. I know that is hard for us to understand as we’re looking at the images, but for many of these Afghans, this is their home. And yes, they are dual citizens. Yes, it is absolutely our responsibility to make sure we are reaching out to them multiple times. We are providing opportunity — we are providing opportunity. We are finding ways to get them to the airport and evacuate them but it is also their personal decision on whether they want to depart.
TALCOTT: Blinken was really specific in giving numbers for Americans that actively are trying to get out of Afghanistan. Has the State Department made direct contact and confirmed with all American citizens that they want to stay — that they might want to stay in Afghanistan? Or is the op — is the assumption that, if they haven’t contacted the embassy or the State Department, that they must not want to leave?
Further, other honorable mentions/questions included NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe on the confidence levels of getting all Americans out by August 31, CBS News Radio’s Steven Portnoy on how Afghans will be able to receive “consular services” and safely leave after the deadline, NBC’s Peter Alexander on a cap or baseline for refugees, and ABC News Radio’s Karen Travers on when the world will find out about the last U.S. flight out of Kabul (click “expand”):
RASCOE: I really just want to kind of drill down on how confident is the administration that all Americans who want to get out will be out by August 31st? I know that you've put out the context, you've been text messaging and all the messages and contacts to people. Is there any concern that there could be people somehow who have somehow fallen through the cracks, haven’t been able to get in contact and they want to get out? Like, how will — how will the administration determine on August 31st or whatever the day the — the military pulls out, that all of the Americans who wanted to get out have been able to get out?
PORTNOY: Can I ask you a threshold question about —
PORTNOY: — the range of assistance that the U.S. is now promising to offer to Afghanistans [sic] after August 31?
PORTNOY: You talked about consular services. Is it the President's expectation that the Taliban will continue to allow safe passage for Afghans to the airport after the U.S. leaves?
PSAKI: It is our — again, this is part of an active discussion, and I understand certainly why you're asking the question. But we continue to believe that there will be American — there could be, I should say, American citizens. There could be Afghans who would be eligible for Special Immigrant Visas or would be individuals eligible for a range of our programs who would want to depart. That would require a means of departing and that's what we're working through now.
PORTNOY: So, there's no guarantee yet from the Taliban to continue allow safe passage for the people that the U.S. is hoping —
PSAKI: Again, these are ongoing discussions, and that is our expectation and what we're working toward.
ALEXANDER: [Y]ou said you didn't want to provide a cap as it relates to Afghan allies — vulnerable Afghan allies who are still seeking to leave the country right now. Recognizing you don’t want to provide a cap, can you provide us a base line? What is the stated goal, as provided to the President, of the number you estimate it is at least as many as so there’s some context for these 80,000 plus people who have now been evacuated?
PSAKI: I’m just — that is similar to me in giving a cap and there are people who are not yet through the process who may not count as an SIV applicant at this point in time or may be eligible for a range of programs. Our objective, as you've seen by the numbers over the past several days, is to evacuate as many people as possible who qualify for any of these programs.
ALEXANDER: I guess, why can't the White House or the administration say what that stated goal is even as a baseline, so people get a sense of what we're shooting for in this process? What's the harm in saying that?
PSAKI: Because I don't think there's a benefit in giving a cap. That's not our objective.
TRAVERS: But can say today when last flight will leave in order get the drawdown done by that deadline?
PSAKI: I don't think that's information we’re going to be providing publicly at any point in time
TRAVERS: How would we know then? I mean, you’re giving updates today that —
PSAKI: Once it’s completed. We’ll — we’ll provide that to you.
TRAVERS: — you’ll say, “this is it. This is the last update —
TRAVERS: — we’re going to give on the numbers?”
PSAKI: Well, again, we are in direct contact with people who are departing and evacuating Afghanistan, whether they are SIVs, whether are eligible other programs, whether they are American citizens. Our objective is to provide — to do that in a — as safe a manner as possible with rising threats ISIS K. So, again DoD will provide operational updates as they did yesterday, about moving military out, moving equipment out, etc. And, as we've noted, that be in advance the 31st in of our equipment that would need to move out. But I don't — I don’t anticipate that we're going give you exact or an exact time for security reasons.
TRAVERS: And then, after it happens, though, you guys have very good about giving data, twice a day —
TRAVERS: — on these numbers. Is there going to be one of those updates that will say, “and that is it. That’s the last evacuation flight.”
PSAKI: I'm sure we will make clear to all of you when it is the last flight. Absolutely.
To see the relevant briefing transcript from August 25, click here.