Karine Jean-Pierre, the Biden White House’s ever-inept press secretary, had a rough go of things Thursday afternoon as she took a plethora of brutal questions from the left and right over President Biden’s sudden capitulation to sanity and allow for the construction of just over 20 miles of new border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Given it was more than just Fox’s Peter Doocy and Real Clear Politics’s Philip Wegmann pressing, you knew it was a grilling.
ABC’s Selina Wang kicked it off: “The President just told me that a border wall does not work. If that’s the case, why does his own Department of Homeland Security Secretary say in a public notice, ‘[t]here is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers’?”
Jean-Pierre even muffled this first question by claiming Biden “was very clear in saying and also what you all have been reporting about — about this — this construction,” adding “this is not new.”
Wang had two follow-ups, including the obvious: “But why now? For instance, these funds have been available since Biden took office. Why at this moment?”
Jean-Pierre demurred, arguing Biden “actually spoke to this and this is one of the things that he was saying that he — he’s been asking Congress to reappropriate the funds,” but they “refused.”
Reuters’s Nandita Bose came more from the left, wondering “[w]hat specific law will the administration be breaking if funds appropriated for the border wall are not used, especially because the funds are — go unused all the time.”
Jean-Pierre naturally didn’t have an answer because “I’m not a lawyer.” Oof.
After a few follow-ups, CNN producer Kevin Liptak, usually a Biden lackey, came along and seemed exasperated: “If the border wall is ineffective, why is the Homeland Security Secretary saying that it’s necessary to prevent unlawful entries into the United States?”
When Jean-Pierre said she hadn’t seen that, he shot back that it was “in the notice that went out this morning.” Based on here response that she could only “speak to” what Biden thinks, she showed she didn’t do her homework.
Liptak had less luck when he even read a quote to her from Biden as a candidate: “And he said in 2020 as a candidate — so after this law was passed in 2019 — that ‘There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.’ How can you say that he’s not breaking that promise?”
NBC’s Peter Alexander really got Jean-Pierre flustered when noted the announcement of this wall construction was only posted on the Federal Register the night before and then read back a statement from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that “[t]here is presently an acute and immediate need to construct physical barriers” at the border.
“So, who’s right: the statement from the DHS Secretary overnight or the President’s comments today saying they don’t work,” he wondered.
Jean-Pierre tried to play dumb, leading Alexander at one point to throw this dagger: “Does he have a disagreement with his Department of Homeland Security Secretary?”
Her answer threw Mayorkas overboard: “[W]hat I can tell you is what the President — I — I’m going to tell you what the President said and what your colleague asked him.”
Alexander tried once more to no avail: “I ask because he’s speaking in direct contradiction to what his own Homeland Security Secretary says.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Catherine Lucey came from the left, standing up for the supposedly aggrieved Mexican president (click “expand”):
LUCEY: Mexico’s President is saying that the — the plans to move forward, are “contrary” to what President Biden had been proposing. Has the President addressed this with Mexico? Have you guys — has he talked to him?
JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, he just addressed it in the — in — in the Oval —
LUCEY: But has he — has he spoken to the Mexican leader?
JEAN-PIERRE: I — I hear you. But that just — that was just — came out, right — I’m assuming — that he just made that statement. Correct?
LUCEY: He could have talked to him in advance.
JEAN-PIERRE: You guys just saw him. He was meeting with — he was meeting with his national security advisors — right — with the new chairman. So, first of all, you heard directly from the President. He said that he does not think a border wall is effective. So, you heard directly from the President on that, as — as the President of Mexico is speaking to, right? So, you heard from — directly from the President. I don’t have a — I don’t have a call to read out. The President has been busy meeting with his national security team.
LUCEY: Does he plan to speak with him about this?
JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t — I don’t have a call to reach out. As you know, members of — members of his team here at the White House have — they went down to — to Mexico. They did a delegation and went down there and had meetings. I don’t have a call to read out from the President.
Even far-left Washington Post reporter Toluse Olorunnipa pointed out an inconvenient fact:[T]he President has voted for, you know, the Secure Fence Act in 2006, specifically talking about how it would be effective in stopping drugs”.
Skipping ahead and Wang’s ABC colleague Karen Travers and Hearst’s Kalyn Norwood wondered whether this was to appease Republican demands for border security measures in exchange for Ukraine funding (click “expand”):
TRAVERS: understand that you’ve said this is in the works, that it’s been out for six months. But specifically on this notice coming out last night, is it at all related to the funding request for Ukraine that the administration has been pushing for, given what some House Republicans are saying that they want border money right now — they want more focus on border security. Is this some sort of, “We will put this out now so we can make more of an effort to get the Ukraine funding”?
JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I wouldn’t connect the two. I think, again, the President has said multiple times when it comes — when — as answering “why now?” The President multiple times has asked Congress to reapprai- — -appropriate these funds. They wouldn’t do it and so, we’re moving forward. This is — this is nothing new.
TRAVERS: And you’ve said many times that the President, many times, has asked Congress to cancel or shift these funds toward more effective uses at the border. How has he specifically done that? Has been — has that been through formal budget or funding requests? When did that happen?
JEAN-PIERRE: So, I don’t have the exact timeline of when those happened.
NORWOOD: First, just to clarify: The White House says that it’s doing this only because it has to — no other reason, like a surge in border crossings or pressure from other Democratic leaders?
JEAN-PIERRE: DHS was required to use this funds for their appropriate purses to comply with the law.
Telemundo’s Cristina Londoño naturally hit Jean-Pierre from the left: “Karine, I understand you’re saying that DHS is complying with the law. But to do so, the President is not keeping his promises or his commitments to the immigrant community, to environmentalists...Is there any concern that he’s not keeping his promises?”
When Jean-Pierre said he wasn’t, Londoño tried again: “Is he concerned about this border issue? Because it — it does look like he’s backtracking on a promise.”
Last but not least, Wegmann went back in time:
[Mayorkas] previously said in 2021 that he was against the border wall. As plenty of my colleagues have pointed out, he has recently said that there’s, you know, an “acute need.” It seems that his Secretary has changed his mind. So, will the President or has the President inquired what caused that evolution?
Uninterested in helping Mayorkas, Jean-Pierre reiterated she can only speak to Biden’s views.
Doocy Time ended the briefing, starting with: “As a candidate, President Biden didn’t say, ‘there will not be another foot of wall constructed that — except what was appropriated in 2019.’ He said, ‘there will not be another foot of wall constructed [in] my administration.’ So, something changed. What?”
This left Jean-Pierre furious (click “expand”):
JEAN-PIERRE: You want us to break the law? Is that what you want? You want us to not comply with the law?
DOOCY: I’m not — I’m — I’m asking about —
JEAN-PIERRE: But you want — but you want us to not comply —
DOOCY: He was declarative.
JEAN-PIERRE: — with the law? You want us to not be an administration that follow the rule of law?
DOOCY: You guys do this all the time. The student loans — the student loan forgiveness program — you went to court to fight for that. If this is such a problem — building 20 miles of wall — why not just go to court?
JEAN-PIERRE: We went to Congress. The Congress appropriates the funding.
DOOCY: Why not go to — why not —
JEAN-PIERRE: Congress —
DOOCY: — fight them more?
JEAN-PIERRE: — Congress appropriates the funding. We asked them to not use that funding for that particular purpose. They denied it and now we’re complying with the law.
Doocy’s last question was spicy but pertinent: “If you have to build a border wall but you don’t think that it’s going to work, then once it’s done, are you just going to tear it down?”
Of course, Jean-Pierre scoffed at the idea of “getting into hypotheticals”.
To see the relevant transcript from the October 5 briefing (including one on the health care workers strike and more border questions from reporters at Bloomberg, Roll Call, Time, and USA Today), click here.