A longtime diplomatic and military spokesman in the Obama and Biden administrations, John Kirby has exhibited a calm, cogent demeanor, so it was surprising on Thursday when Kirby appeared miffed as Fox’s Peter Doocy pressed him on the Biden administration’s posture towards China and then as Today News Africa’s Simon Ateba repeatedly interrupted the briefing and demanded he be called on.
Doocy led off with a cutting take for Kirby, who joined the inept White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre for the third time in four days: “Why is it that, over the last couple of months, President Biden’s been so much tougher on Russia than he is on China?”
Kirby seemed flat-footed, saying he “wouldn’t agree with the premise of the question.”
Doocy took a different route, pointing out Biden’s near-daily speeches in late February and March after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are in stark contrast to China’s bellicose behavior toward Taiwan:
Well, I think just when Russia was getting aggressive around Ukraine, the President was out every couple of days telling Putin, “don't do it.” And now, China is getting aggressive around Taiwan and we’re not hearing anything like that from the President.
Kirby was more ready for this one and countered that he’s “been standing up here for a week, Peter, talking about our concerns about what China was preparing to do.”
Taking into account President Biden’s prolonged bout with COVID-19, Doocy wondered why he hasn’t called Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and told him to knock it off:
[Y]ou said that there's not a call scheduled with Xi. Is there a reason why? Because President Biden’s known him for decades. He’s got a lot of time up there in the residence this week. Is there a reason he can’t just pick up the phone and call?
Kirby wasn’t amused and said to argue he had “free time” and not “working all the way through his illness” was “a little bit insulting” (click “expand”):
KIRBY: He doesn’t have free time. He’s — he’s — he’s — he’s been working all the way through his illness, quite frankly, Peter, so it’s a little bit insulting. And, as for a call —
DOOCY: It’s not insulting —
KIRBY: It is.
DOOCY: — to —
KIRBY: It is.
DOOCY: — to say that the — that someone who is isolating by themself —
KIRBY: You suggested he has a lot of free time as if he’s not doing anything and you know that's not the case, Mr. Doocy. Now, look, as for a call with President Xi, I don't have anything on the president scheduled to speak to. If ever the President felt like a call with President Xi was the appropriate way to respond or that it would — that it would have an effect and an outcome that he wants to achieve, he certainly would be willing to do that.
Later, Doocy had a crack at Jean-Pierre: “Based on everything that's happening in Asia right now, does President Biden consider China to be an opponent or a competitor?”
When she failed to provide a real answer besides talking points about Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) having “the right to travel wherever she wants” and that’d include Taiwan, Doocy tried again: “[W]ith the relationship moving forward, though, would he consider China a competitor or an opponent of the United States?”
Jean-Pierre didn’t dodge this second attempt (even though it projected one of weakness): “[W]e want to be able to compete. We want to be able to compete with China and we want to be able to have those manufacturing jobs, investment in — in the United States and also strengthen our supply chain, make sure we strengthen our national security.”
As for the other test of Kirby’s patience, Jean-Pierre had picked a reporter for Kirby to call on, but despite that, Ateba insisted it was his turn (click “expand”):
ATEBA: Mr. — Mr. Kirby, can you clarify one —
KIRBY [TO JEAN-PIERRE]: Who’s got — who’s asking?
ATEBA: — can you clarify one —
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Last one, [INAUDIBLE]
KIRBY [TO REPORTER]: Yes, sir.
ATEBA: — the White House —
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You said that our policy towards China has been consistent —
KIRBY [TO ATEBA]: Hey, your name is Simon, right?
ATEBA: — yes. I really want to ask you a question.
KIRBY: Si — Smon, Simon, Simon.
ATEBA: I’m trying to ask you these questions —
KIRBY: — if you allow me to ask you these questions —
KIRBY: Sir —
KIRBY: — I'm going to —
KIRBY: — I’m going to call on this man. Sir, listen, now. I've been polite to you, but I expect a little bit of respect in return.
KIRBY: You know where we are? It's the White House press briefing room and you need to be more respectful.
KIRBY: I’m going to call on this reporter.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you. You described our policy towards China as consistent and clear, but the U.S. policy towards Taiwan —
Elsewhere, Fox Business’s Edward Lawrence wanted to know whether Biden would “caution companies from expanding business or doing business in China” “given the aggression we are seeing from China around Taiwan.”
Kirby again folded and gave news that’s sure to please the Hunter Bidens of the world, stating that while the administration has “concerns regarding” anyone doing business “in or around China...they’re private companies and they make their own decisions, and we have to respect that.”
To see the relevant transcript from August 4's briefing, click here.