With Fox News out of the rotation for White House Briefing Room seats, Thursday’s briefing left plenty of space for reporters from the liberal media to step up and commit random acts of journalism. Thankfully, some did with pointed questions calling out President Biden’s plethora of executive orders and the reality that the administration had sided with teachers' unions over “science” when it came to keeping schools closed.
Unfortunately, there were still reporters that were far more casual and friendly, lobbing either bland or outright softballs.
In this latter category, Bloomberg’s Nancy Cook closed the briefing with this lament:
I just wonder if there is a general sense of frustration just about the pace of things given the vaccine distribution. You know, some of what you inherited from the Trump administration, trying to roll out executive orders, working with Congress and sort of having some lawmakers raise concerns, is it harder to change things than you all thought it would be?
The horror! What a tough life it must be to be a Democrat.
While some decided that a top briefing takeaway was that Press Secretary Jen Psaki took questions from almost all women (12 out of 13 reporters called on), many of them brought tough questions. To borrow a phrase from Jeff Zucker’s chief propagandist: how refreshing.
Associated Press reporter Alexandra Jaffe was perhaps the toughest. She led off the questions by taking note of Biden’s “record number of executive orders,” and wondered if the White House views such behavior as “the best way to make policy” considering Biden’s message of unity and that they can be undone by any future president.
Jaffe followed by wondering if Senate Democrats choosing to pass the latest round of COVID relief without Republican votes flew in the face of unity.
Fast-forward to round two and Jaffe offered an excellent question about whether the administration had rejected “science” in favor of demands from a key special interest group (click “expand”):
JAFFE: I wanted to clarify something you talked a little bit about — the administration's stance on school reopenings yesterday.
PSAKI: Sure. I wasn't really clear on that, so I've got better information.
JAFFE: Ron Klain indicated that he believes — or the administration believes that schools need more funding for them to be safe enough to reopen, for students to go back. But there’s been a number of studies showing schools are safe for students to go back and there were recommendations that they should go back. So, this seems like a bit of a dispute between teachers' unions and sort of data and the science. So, where does the administration stand in that dispute?
PSAKI: Well, first let me be absolutely clear. President Biden wants schools to open and he wants them to stay open because it's obviously very disruptive for families. I'm a mother. You know, for anyone who has kids, for kids to come in and out of school. But that means making sure, as you said, that every school is able to have the equipment and resources to open safely. Not just rural schools or private schools, which often is a lot of where the school reopenings and schools staying open is happening. It's more of a challenge in public schools where they don't have that funding from tuition or smaller populations where it's easier to put in place the actions needed to keep the schools open. But the CDC study. which I know received a lot of attention. was based on kind of an area that was more rural in Wisconsin. It was not — and I think what Dr. Walensky has said is that — I think she said this on CNN last night — for areas more populated, for schools with more foot traffic that there are going to need to be a lot of steps put in place in order to make the schools reopening safe[.]
Incredibly, CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins decided to harken back to her days pre-Zuckerville (when she was an actual journalist) and followed Jaffe a few moments later on schools after Psaki dismissed a key CDC study on reopenings.
Here was the full exchange (click “expand”):
COLLINS: So, just to get some clarification on the CDC study about schools being good to reopen if precautions are taking, is the White House positioned it needs to be further studied since you're citing just the one school in Wisconsin, or does the white house agree with the recommendations from the CDC about schools reopening?
PSAKI: Well, the CDC hasn't issued the formal recommendations or requirements on how all schools across the country can open. They did a report, as they do reports frequently, based on an area in Wisconsin. Important, interesting data no doubt. But it — that is not reflective of every school district and community in the country. And so, they will be coming out with more specific requirements or more specific, I should say, guidelines for the public because there are schools that are much more highly populated areas. There are schools that have far more kids in classrooms, for more kids walking into the school and they want to ensure that there's clarity on testing needs, class size needs, public health guidance that people can abide by. But, you know, their recommendation is that K-12 schools should be the last settings to close to after all of these mitigation measures have been deployed and the first to reopen. So, we all want schools to reopen and be open for good. What — what I'm reflecting on — or what I'm trying to clarify, I guess, is that, you know, schools and cities are dealing with different challenges than schools in rural communities and schools in Wisconsin may be dealing in different challenges than schools in, you know, downtown Atlanta, right? So, there needs to be kind of the CDC will issue more specific guidelines soon. They're focused on it now.
COLLINS: Okay. And last question on this. So, President Biden has said he wants all schools to reopen in his first 100 days. Is that still the goal if Congress does not pass this proposal, which has the money for schools, which Ron Klain and others have said is what they believe schools need to reopen.
PSAKI: I sense skepticism about the bill getting passed. We don't feel that.
COLLINS: We feel everything.
PSAKI: I know. That's your job. Look, I think, Kaitlan, one of the reasons we're so focused on the American plan and getting it urgently passed through Congress is because we need this funding in order for schools to reopen and for them to have the support to ensure that they have proper ventilation, better cleaning, testing, PEE. That's a key component of the package and that's one of the reasons we're not going to negotiate out that versus vaccine funding or, you know, unemployment insurance because that's a key component and we need that to ensure that schools will have the resources across the country to be able to reopen and that's exactly what the President wants to happen.
On the GameStop/Robinhood controversy, Reuters’s Nandita Bose inquired about whether Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen planned to “recuse herself from advising the President on GameStop and the whole Robinhood situation” because she’s received money for speaking to Citadel, a hedge fund enveloped in the hubbub.
Psaki deflected, boasting that Yellen “is one of the world-renowned experts on markets, on the economy, which it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone” and was merely “paid to give her perspective and advice before she came into office.”
ABC’s Mary Bruce followed the thread Jaffe started on Senate Democrats moving forward with ducking the filibuster on coronavirus relief, questioning whether that behavior “undermine[s] your calls for bipartisanship and are you urging them to give this more time.”
Thursday’s lone male reporter was the Washington Examiner’s Rob Crilly, who also stood out with tough questions.
After quizzing Psaki on pro-Israel comments made by Linda Thomas-Greenfield at her confirmation to become U.N. Ambassador, Crilly invoked October 15 comments from then-candidate Biden about executive orders to wonder if “Biden sees himself as perhaps a benevolent dictator.”
Predictably, this didn’t make Psaki happy (click “expand”):
CRILLY: I just want to bring it back to the executive orders, the questions we were discussing at the start. I’m still trying to sort of reconcile this deluge. What are we at? We’re already at 26 executive orders now and reconcile that with the campaign rhetoric because, in October, Joe Biden said the word limitations on the use of executive actions, “things you can't do by executive order unless you're a dictator. We’re a democracy. We need consensus.” I think you said earlier that some of these executive orders will be used to roll back some of the immoral things that the previous administration had done. If you’re calling these things immoral, is that seeking consensus in unity? And then also does it suggest President Biden sees himself as perhaps a benevolent dictator?
PSAKI: Well, Rob, but I’m sure this wasn't your intention, but I think you took the President's comments a bit out of context. He was asked about tax reform and — and whether that could be done via executive order during the interview with George Stephanopoulos, which you’re referring to.
PSAKI: Well, I think the question is pretty important context for everybody and he said, no. And the president also said during an interview with columnists back in December, that he didn't think executive action should be used for everything. And that certainly is his point of view. But there are steps, including overturning some of the harmful, detrimental and yes, immoral, actions of the prior administration that he felt he could not wait to — to overturn and that's exactly what he did. Now, any historian will tell you that he walked into the presidency at one of the most difficult moments in history that required additional executive action in order to take —get immediate relief to the American people. But he believe as is law — everybody knows how a bill becomes a law, in order to make action and policy permanent, you need to work with Congress. That's why he has also proposed a COVID relief package, a big, bold package. Some say very big. I agree with that. And also an immigration bill. He has not held back or delayed putting forward legislation either. So, he is going to use the levers that every president in history has used, executive actions, but he also feels it's important to work with Congress and not just one party but both parties to get things done.