Wednesday’s Psaki Show included a topic few would ever expect to pop up (aside from Hunter Biden references) as Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich repeatedly grilled Press Secretary Jen Psaki over a Free Beacon report (by former MRCTV intern Patrick Hauf) that a Health and Human Services (HHS) grant for “safe smoking kits” would include crack pipes.
Despite vehement denials by HHS, Psaki, and their allies in the so-called fact-checking profession, there’s been no solidified evidence to debunk the grant and, thanks to Hauf’s story, the administration has said they would ensure they weren’t included. Regardless, the program has been seen as encouraging drug use instead of helping users quit.
Heinrich cut to the chase, citing an HHS statement: “clarifying...reports that crack pipes are not going to be part of the ‘safe smoking kits’ that are funded by the administration, but can you clarify for us: Were they never a part of the kit or were they removed in response to this reporting and this pushback?”
Psaki tried to wiggle out of it, insisting, “[t]hey were never a part of the kit; it was inaccurate reporting and we wanted to put out information to make that clear.”
That ran contrary to the grant, which Hauf said would include “smoking kits/supplies” with an HHS official stating the kits would allow someone to smoke “any illicit substance.”
Heinrich asked the next logical question “what is in the safe smoking kit” and Psaki said it ranged from “alcohol swabs, lip balm, other materials” like “fentanyl test strips clean syringes” so that they could “address the opioid epidemic” and “reduce the transmission of...diseases like HIV and hepatitis.”
With Psaki having outlined that a kit that would allow people to do a host of drugs, Heinrich asked whether the Biden administration “support[s]” drug use and, if not, why have they asked the Justice Department to examine the legality of “safe injection sites.”
Psaki said the administration is focused on “address[ing]” a crisis that’s affected millions and thus don’t have time for “political games” (click “expand”):
HEINRICH: And then — so just to put a final point on it, does the administration support any effort then to distribute drug paraphernalia like the types that we were hearing about?
PSAKI: We — the statement makes clear that we don’t support federal funding, indirect or direct, for pipes.
HEINRICH: Okay. Thank you and then on the safe injection sites that the DOJ is evaluating: Was this an ask from the White House that they review that policy? Because I know that, for years, DOJ has opposed efforts to open safe injection sites.
PSAKI: It’s under litigation, so I can’t speak to that, but what I can tell you and reiterate is that the White House is committed — as I will — as I would reiterate for you, many Democrats and Republicans, including Senator Cruz — to taking steps to address the opioid crisis. This is not an issue that is inflicting just blue states. It is inflicting millions of Americans across the country, and it is important that we take steps to address it.
HEINRICH: So, just final wrap of those two items: What would you say to critics who are concerned that the Biden administration is somehow encouraging illegal drug use?
PSAKI: I think that it’s important to step back and remember — just to put a little more of a fine point on it — that we are losing an American life every five minutes to overdose. We don’t have time for political games. The President is focused on saving lives...This is not a game. This is not a political game. This is an epidemic that is taking the life of five — of an American every five minutes, and we need to work in a bipartisan way to address it.
Later, The Grio’s April Ryan aided Psaki when she griped that “misinformation” on about this has had “a terrible ripple effect,” so she wanted to know what the “administration” is “doing” to something (presumably against outlets reporting it) “[b]ecause this has permeated a lot of corridors[.]”
Psaki thanked Ryan for her “really important point because...there’s been a lot of misinformation and...it has really clouded over what is a hugely important issue” with opioids and “harm reduction.”
Ryan followed up, whining there’s been “a lot of damage already been done just by misinformation in certain communities.” Psaki again agreed, insisting “this has never been a part of what has been funded.”
But here are the facts. After the briefing, the Drug Policy Alliance released a statement expressing disappointment that pipes wouldn’t be included because they’re needed “to save lives now” and seemed to be under the impression they were.
Hauf wrote a piece late Wednesday taking everyone to task (click “expand”):
The announcement comes in response to a Monday Washington Free Beacon report that HHS is set to spend $30 million on a "harm reduction" grant program that would reimburse local governments that provide "smoking kits" for users of crack cocaine. Existing smoking kit programs in cities such as Annapolis, Md., New Haven, Conn., San Francisco, and Seattle all include smoking pipes.
An HHS spokesman initially confirmed to the Free Beacon that the kits provided through the grant program were designed to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, as well as "any illicit substance."
After publication of a report on the funding, HHS backtracked in a Tuesday statement that labeled the story "blatant misinformation." When asked to explain what part of the story was incorrect, a spokesman said the story is "misleading and misinformed" but declined to provide any information to refute the report.
The stated parameters in the government grant are any "equipment and supplies" that "enhance harm reduction efforts," and "smoking kits" are included as eligible equipment. HHS initially defended funding smoking kits.
Going back to Heinrich, she also pushed Psaki on masking as blue state governors have rolled back mask mandates:
But these decisions that are being made at the local level, like you guys always talk about, are out of step with the science that is at the forefront of the CDC, of this White House, so why are we not hearing the same messaging criticizing states that are, you know, making these moves like we heard previously with, for instance, Ron DeSantis?
Psaki promptly lied, emphasizing “there is a distinct difference between standing in the way, which Ron DeSantis did” in banning “teachers, school administrators, and others” from taking steps to protect the students in their school communities.”
Of course, no one was banned from wearing a mask in the Sunshine State.
To see the relevant transcript and excellent masking questions from AP’s Aamer Madhani, ABC’s Cecilia Vega, and NBC’s Kristen Welker, a pro-masking softball from The Wall Street Journal’s Sabrina Siddiqui, and a Ukraine hardball from CBS’s Nancy Cordes, click here.