On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki found herself as a modern reincarnation of the boy Alexander from the famous children’s book as she faced a torrent of tough questions from reporter after reporter on Afghanistan, the border, and spending. And with little in the way of answers to defend President Biden and his administration’s failures, shortcomings, and spin, the questions kept coming.
The Associated Press’s Zeke Miller set the table, pointing out the unanimity of military officials contradicting Biden on the Afghanistan withdrawal from his August 18 ABC interview before asking: “So did the President mislead the American public about the advice of his military advisers?”
ABC’s Terry Moran wasn’t convinced by Psaki’s answers, so he tried repeatedly to find out “who in his military advisors told him it’d be fine to pull everybody out.” However, Psaki said the public doesn’t deserve to know because, in the end, the President was the only person who could make such a crucial decision.
CBS’s Weijia Jiang tried to find out what Psaki meant about there being a “split” in opinions about the withdrawal, but Psaki employed a tiresome trick by appearing confused.
Jiang astutely took note of the fact that Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley had “spoke[n] with several authors for their books about the former President” and thus wondered whether Team Biden believed that was appropriate.
Seeing as how the liberal media and D.C. elites were joined at the hip, Psaki refused to say that was a bad thing.
NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and CBS News Radio’s Steven Portnoy came next and were arguably the most effective questioners as both went right to the heart of the matter as, along with the fact that Biden may have lied to the American people, this failed withdrawal (and a refusal to acknowledge it as such) could hurt America’s credibility (click “expand”):
O’DONNELL: As we sit here today, does President Biden believes that his military advisers supported his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops based on their own judgments?
O’DONNELL: So, knowing that the President gets to make this decision, knowing he may have to make further decisions going down the line, so not looking at the history, but I think the public wants to know, if the generals and military advisors give advice, how will the President use and process that and how will he talk about it publicly? That matters to the public. Did the President convey accurately what these generals were saying to him?
O’DONNELL: Well, in the interview and then going forward, can they understand how the President will use that kind of information when we see there's a conflict between what the generals were saying and the President's public statements with respect to Afghanistan?
PORTNOY: So, what is the White House's reaction to some other aspects of General Miller's testimony? He said, among other things, that it was a mistake for two successive American presidents to have a data-based or date certain withdrawal, that it ought to be conditions based. He also indicated in his testimony the idea of the U.S. credibility would be damaged would be a word that should be looked at. What's the White House's response to those aspects of his testimony today?
PORTNOY: General Milley specifically said that he believed it was a mistake for there to be a date certain withdrawals versus conditions based. He said that was a lesson he learned. Does the President agree with that? Does this White House acknowledged that it was a mistake? And is there any — not to say second guessing, but is there any thought that perhaps a mistake was made.
PSAKI: In which peace? When did we set a deadline for withdrawal? You're talking about September 1st?
PORTNOY: The general said that two successive American Presidents made the mistake of setting dates. So the President — this President had, first, September 11th and then he adjusted to August 31st. General Milley indicated that that was a mistake.
PSAKI: Well to be clear, we had, um, a first timeline with no plan. We had a deadline and no plan for withdrawal that we walked into when the President was inaugurated and took office. The September 1st timeline was related to — was based on the recommendations on the of the military, on — on the timeline needed to operationally effectively and safely withdraw troops once the president made the decision to withdraw our troops. So, it's not the same thing.
PORTNOY: Let me ask you one more question. General Milley also said that he wasn't asked about whether to keep troops on the ground until August 25. Is that true?
PSAKI: Say that one more time?
PORTNOY: General Milley said he wasn't asked by the president whether to keep troops on the ground until August 25.
PSAKI: Past September 1?
PORTNOY: Past September. I suppose that was the question. But — but can you confirm?
CNN’s Phil Mattingly doubled back a few minutes later, asking if the White House agreed with Milley that the withdrawal from Afghanistan “was a logistical success, but a strategic failure.” For that, Psaki insisted Milley used the word “failure” to describe the war itself.
In the most surprising moment, The New York Times’s Michael Shear took a brutal shot at the administration’s insistence that the cost of their $3.5 trillion infrastructure package is actually zero (click “expand”):
SHEAR: You guys have made a lot of — the administration officials have been a lot about the idea that the cost of the program is zero and by that I expect you mean net zero to the — to the treasury once you sort of take into account the money that's raised versus the money that's spent, correct?
PSAKI: Yes, it doesn't. I know none of us are mathematicians, otherwise we wouldn't be here. But yes,
SHEAR: But — but — but
PSAKI: — of the investments that were proposed, uh, including tax cuts and the pay fors, including making the tax system more fair, zero.
SHEAR: But do you guys acknowledge the sort of broader truth that it's not, uh, that it does cost somebody, right? That — that the cost of the investments the President wants to make, don't simply — they're not simply a free lunch, right? Whether they're going to cost people who smoke cigarettes or they're going to cost business people or they're gonna cost companies or they're going to cost rich people, like, the cost of what the President wants to do over the course of the next decade and beyond falls on somebody, right?
PSAKI: But there's a clear difference between what we're talking about as it relates to taxpayer funds, right? Or funding that are lead to our debt — right — which I know a lot of Republicans are supposedly concerned about. And, uh, and uh, and asking businesses, 50 of the top companies last year in 2020 paid, not a dollar in taxes. A lot of high income net — net — high — or high income individuals pay lower tax rates than nurses and teachers. Nobody thinks that's fair. Yes, they — we’re asking them to pay more. Yes. So it will cost them more.
When you’re a liberal and you’ve lost someone at The Times, you might in trouble.
Speaking of being in trouble, Fox’s Jacqui Heinrich wondered what Psaki made of former President Obama’s claim hours earlier to ABC that open borders were “unsustainable.” In response, Psaki laughably claimed that “[w]e don’t have open borders.” Oops.
Skipping ahead to the final two reporters, al-Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett noted the irony that while Marine Lt. Col. Stewart Scheller had been imprisoned after criticizing the Biden withdrawal from Afghanistan, but Biden lavished praise on then-Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman when he played a role in then-President Trump’s first impeachment.
The great Philip Wegmann of Real Clear Politics played the role of closer, questioning Psaki about why can’t the American people have as much information as possible about the decision-making process about such a monumental issue like leaving Afghanistan. Of course, Psaki said it’s none of our business (click “expand”):
WEGMANN: The President has not shied away from the historical implications of leaving Afghanistan. He's noted that it was time to end a 20-year war. He has said that he is not going to pass this war on to a fifth president. So, given that he understands the gravity and he has framed it in the historical contact, I know that you said you're not going to detail private conversations, but can you give us a little bit more of an explanation as to why not? Don't the — you know, doesn't the American public, given the historical gravity of that decision, don't they deserve to know who is advising the President, who is on the other side of that argument about leaving troops in Afghanistan?
PSAKI: I — I would say, first, that what the American public can know and understand is that the President will welcome and take and ask for and push for a range of opinions on every national security decision that he makes, um and we're not going to detail those uh private discussions, private decisions that happened in the situation room for the public. What the President has also been very candid and clear about and will continue to be and you outlined much of this is why he made the decision that he made and even as it relates to the recommendation on 2,500, it's also important for the American public to understand that was not going to be a sustainable number over the long term. And what the decision he was making was about was not sending their daughters, their sons, their grandchildren back to fight a war that the Afghans would not fight themselves and it was about a phase, not a longterm recommendation.
Sadly for Psaki, Monday wasn’t much better as she came under fire from Heinrich, Wall Street Journal’s Catherine Lucey, and Portnoy about Biden bad-mouthing the U.S. press on a hot mic and complimenting the obedience of the Indian press corps to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In Heinrich’s case, she noted that India is one of the world’s worst countries for press freedom with a ranking of 142nd by Reporters Without Borders.
And closing out the briefing, Wegmann asked about the plight of Uighurs (which he would follow up about on Tuesday) and a basic question about whether the administration would change its tone on the fake whips story now that even one of the original sites in question in the El Paso Times has recanted their claim (click “expand”):
WEGMANN: Does the President have a specific position on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act that passed the Senate and is awaiting consideration in the House? And then in a recent interview with Bloomberg, John Kerry seemed to suggest that in talks with the Chinese, this administration sees human rights and climate change as two separate issues. He said, “yes, we have issues, a number of different issues, but first and foremost, this planet must be productive.” Is it the President’s view that climate change is first and foremost over, you know, a host of other issues?
PSAKI: Well, to be fair, I think what the Secretary was conveying is what I just conveyed about our China policies, that we are going to continue to speak out when — where we have concerns, whether it’s their economic approach, whether it’s human rights issues, which we will raise privately and we will also raise publicly. But we will also look to work with the Chinese on areas where we can. And obviously, climate is one of them.
WEGMANN: And on specifically — on the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, does the President have a position?
PSAKI: I will check with our legislative team. Obviously, he’s spoken out about his concerns about the treatment of Uyghurs in the past, but let me check on the specific piece of legislation.
WEGMANN: You — you touched on this, but I’m wondering, you know, the El Paso Times has walked back their claim that border agents were you using whips to deter Haitian migrants. This is kind of a controversy. Some people are wondering what is a whip versus what is a rein? And the El Paso Times put out a clarification saying, it was not an actual whip. Does that change anything for the administration in light of the statements that were made last week?
PSAKI: I don’t think anyone could look at those photos and think that was appropriate action or behavior, or something that should be accepted within our administration. There’s an investigation that’s ongoing. We’ll let that play out, but our reaction to the photos has not changed.
To see the relevant transcript from September 28's briefing, click here.