Making his third White House Briefing Room appearance of the week on Friday, Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy again went toe-to-toe with Press Secretary Jen Psaki on the border crisis and school reopenings, but in a sign that patience might be wearing thin with some liberal journalists, Doocy had assistance from multiple reports on the border as well as hard-hitting questions of their own on the coronavirus and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY).
Doocy started with the border, noting that Psaki had said moments beforehand about leadership starting “at the top” and using that to note that “you're talking about leadership from Ambassador Jacobson and many others getting the word” out about the border being closed, but President Biden has been nowhere to be found.
Psaki bristled at that notion, lecturing Doocy about “we’re all about facts” inside the room and thus Doocy was wrong because of Biden gave an interview on February 26 to Univision and “would look for opportunities to continue to deliver that message clearly himself.”
Undeterred, Doocy shifted to COVID testing at the border and wanted to know what “the federal government is doing...to protect the citizens of a town like Brownsville, Texas” as, according to one batch of testing, there was a nine percent positive rate among illegal immigrants (and “more than double the national average”).
Psaki said she wasn’t “questioning the data,” but proceeded to do just that and offered word salad about health guidelines for border apprehensions. This led Doocy to point out they were guidelines and don’t really prevent someone from “go[ing] off to wherever.”
Later, Doocy pointed out that Biden “wants a majority of schools opened by his 100th day in office,” but all U.S. adults become eligible for the vaccine the very next day, so he asked: “[W]hy just the majority of schools as the goal instead of a specific, high percentage or, say, all schools.”
Doocy’s supporting cast arrived well before he got his turn. CBS News Radio’s Steve Portnoy grilled National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on illegal immigration citing Biden’s own words about border surges in 2014 (click “expand”):
PORTNOY: I ask you a question about immigration diplomacy. When he was Vice President, Joe Biden went to Guatemala in the summer of 2014. You were on that trip as his national security advisor at the time. He went because of what was then an unprecedented surge of unaccompanied minors coming across the border. One of the things he said on that trip in June of 2014 was: “We can, a.), first make clear in each of our countries in an unrelenting way, not just with a public service announcement that there is no free pass that one of these children or women bringing children will be eligible under the existing law in the United States of America.” He said that was number one, and then he went on to describe root causes and American aid. Why has that not been the message that this White House is sending now? “Clear” and “unrelenting that none of these children are women bringing children will be eligible under the existing law?
SULLIVAN: So the President has made clear and this administration has made clear that we are going to pursue an effective and humane immigration policy and unwind what we believe was the ineffective and inhumane policy over the course of the last four years. That's point number one. Point number two is we've made clear that now is not the time to come to the United States. We are dealing with the circumstance in which we have to build the capacity to be able to assess the asylum claims of individuals who arrive here and we have to deal with the obvious public health effects of a pandemic, so we're sending the message clearly and you heard it from Roberta Jacobson from this podium earlier this week. We're doing so in the region as well. But the President also believes that under our laws, people who are claiming asylum deserve to have their cases heard properly, effectively, efficiently, and as swiftly as possible, and that is the policy that we're going to pursue here.
PORTNOY: You really believe that message is being received clearly, in an unrelenting way? I mean, there was a young man quoted in The Wall Street Journal this week, who said that this President seems more friendly to him than the prior one, and he believes he'll be able to come to the United States on that basis?
SULLIVAN: So, this is day-by-day something that we need to be able to communicate from a range of different perspectives, from this podium, in the region itself, on the airwaves, and we will continue to do so as we go forward.
However, Portnoy tacked back to the left during Psaki’s portion when he inquired about whether President Biden believes former President Trump is directly responsible for “the rise in attacks on Asian-Americans.”
NBC’s Peter Alexander also offered a surprisingly strong effort, asking Psaki: “If you want to send the message to migrants that the border is closed, it shouldn't President Biden be the one who is clearly delivering that message?”
After a follow-up, Alexander used the rest of his time to do something even more surprising. His feat? Standing up for the Trump administration and Operation Warp Speed. Needless to say, Psaki didn’t take too well to this line of questioning.
Don’t believe me? Click “expand” to see the full exchange:
ALEXANDER: Let they ask you about the President's speech last night. This was a speech about the anniversary, the last year since the pandemic began. Of course, he spent a lot of time touting the success of vaccines, yet there was no mention of the president under whose administration these vaccines were developed. Does former President Trump not deserve any credit on vaccines?
PSAKI: Well, the President himself and — and many people in our administration have conveyed that having — making the progress that was made and we've said this publicly that was made on these vaccines was a herculean incredible effort by science and by medical experts, and certainly, we have applauded that in the past, and we're happy to applaud that again. But I would say there is a clear difference, and there are clear steps that have been taken since the President took office that have put us in a trajectory that we were not on when he was inaugurated and leadership starts at the top. It includes mask wearing, includes acknowledging there's a pandemic, it includes getting a vaccine in public. But even more importantly than that, it includes putting in place an operational process that — that can ensure that we have enough vaccines to vaccine Americans, enough vaccinators, enough vaccine locations. None of that was in place when the President took office.
ALEXANDER: And certainly that's on distribution and the like, but on the development of vaccines, it was Operation Warp Speed that was invented, executed, initiated under the former president, so in the spirit of bipartisanship and unity last night, as opposed to the first comments, which spoke about the denials in the first days, weeks and months, why don't you say, with credit to the previous administration and the former president for putting us in this position, we are glad that we have been able to move it forward.
PSAKI: That is an excellent recommendation as a speech writer, but we had the President has spoken to it in the past. He has applauded the work of medical experts and scientists and the prior administration and what the purpose of last night's speech was was to give an update on what his administration has been doing what he has done since took out he took office, the progress that's been made, what the work is ahead, provide a light at the end of the tunnel, and ask Americans to engage in the process so — and do what's needed to be done so we can get those July 4th barbecues.
ALEXANDER: In all fairness, he said to bring all Americans together, which is why I asked you.
PSAKI: Of course that is, But you know, I would say that Americans are looking for facts. They're looking for details. They're looking for specifics and I don't think they're worried too much about applause from six months ago, when the President has already delivered that publicly.
And last but not least, the Associated Press’s Jonathan Lemire led off Psaki’s Q&A with not one but two Cuomo questions on whether Biden “believe[s] the governor should resign” and then whether “the White House still [has] faith in Governor Cuomo if he remains in his position, overseeing the response to the pandemic in the state of New York.”
On both, Psaki took the easy way out, refusing to deviate one iota from her previous talking points, thus giving tacit public approval from the Biden administration for Cuomo to stay in office.