With another day in the books in which the Biden border crisis continued to spin out of control, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki found herself Wednesday under the gun from multiple reporters at the daily briefing, including Fox News’s Kristin Fisher and questions about journalists being denied ride-alongs and whether there’s a cap for illegal immigrant children being allowed into the United States.
Instead of responding to them, Psaki went personal and attacked Fisher on the latter question and asked her whether she would want to send ten-year-olds back to Latin America on another dangerous journey.
Fisher started by inquiring about whether “the White House or [Department of Homeland Security] [is] instructing border agents to refuse ride-along requests from reporters” based on the fact that “that’s what a lot of our folks on the ground are hearing.”
Psaki passed the buck, insisting she should ask DHS if that’s the case because the administration has seen “a number of the reports you all do” in which “a number of Border Patrol officials who are quoted in them, who appear in them[.]”
Though it led to Psaki repeating her talking points, Fisher fired off this follow-up:
But our reporters used to be able to get right along's during the Trump administration. And you all came along and promised to be the most truthful and transparent administration and all, you know, oversee the Department of Homeland Security, so if you all wanted to grant access to the press, couldn't you just tell DHS to do it?
Fisher also brought up the effect this had on border towns, calling out the fact that “one of the biggest criticisms of the Trump administration’s remain in Mexico policy was that it overwhelmed all of these border towns in Mexico,” and since “the exact same thing happening” in 2021, so she asked whether there’s been an actual difference.
Psaki filibustered and largely blamed the Trump administration, so Fisher changed gears with this basic question: “But is there a limit or cap to the number of unaccompanied minors that are going to be allowed into the U.S.?”
Instead of admitting there won’t be a cap, Psaki sought to box Fisher in by questioning her humanity: “Should we send some kids who are 10 back at a certain point? Is that what you’re asking me?”
Whereas Jim Acosta would have lost his mind, Fisher calmly rebutted Psaki and re-asked the question. This time, Psaki went back to blaming the Trump administration (click “expand”):
FISHER: I’m — I'm not setting the policy here. I'm asking you what the Biden administration policy is. Is there a limit to the number of — of children that will be allowed in. I mean, the numbers we're hearing now, 565 on average every day. I'm just curious, what the — what the end game is here. How many ultimately will be allowed in?
PSAKI: I think where we are is we're focused on some of the very specific numbers. So when we came into office, there existed 13,000 permanent beds in HHS, ORR — permanent and influx shelter systems facilities during the last administration. Thousands of these beds, approximately half were taken off line due to COVID. Staff was also reduced to put it on par with the new reduced capacity. This was sufficient for the prior administration. So, this is how we got here because they were expelling children. In addition to families and single adults. We decided, as all know, that we will be more humane about how we approach this. There was an operational capacity built. The prior administration did not consider there were mitigation efforts like masking and preventlation [sic], cohorting and other measures that would contain the spread of COVID. There's now revised CDC guidance, which means there's great capacity in these facilities where we can expedite children — expedite getting children into them. There are — we are taking steps to ensure that when kids come to the border, we look and see if they have a phone number in their pockets, so we can call the family member and get them to the family members as quick as possible. These are the steps that we're taking at this point in time. Our policy continues to be, we're not going to send a 10-year-old back across the border. That was the policy of the last administration. That’s not our policy here.
On the issue of ride-alongs, ABC’s Mary Bruce started that line of questioning by wondering if anything had changed about reporters being banned from migrant detention facilities (and photos from being made public).
Even though capacity levels have been obliterated (while the rest of the country has to adhere to COVID restrictions), Psaki maintained that any visit by journalists would have to respect “the privacy” of migrants “and, obviously, the health protocols required by COVID.”
Bruce tried again, but it was to no avail. And before lobbing a brief question about the IRS moving the tax-filing deadline, Bruce got the ball rolling about Border Patrol ride-alongs, saying that “we’re hearing from border agents that they are frustrated that they can't show us what’s actually happening along the border” and there “seems like there’s an element of secrecy here.”
NBC’s Peter Alexander was another reporter who surprisingly brought the heat, calling out the administration’s ineffective border messaging and that their decision to keep children in the U.S. has “incentiviz[ed] parents to send their children across the border alone.”
Psaki pointed to Biden’s ABC interview and both parties have an opportunity to fix the immigration process, but Alexander stated the obvious that “thousands, perhaps tens of thousands who are already in the midst of this dangerous journey...to the border right now and they are not receiving that message.”
While at least two reporters pressed Psaki on immigration, ABC’s Karen Travers and the AP’s Darlene Superville were perhaps the most effective in pressing Psaki about whether the border was a priority for President Biden and if there would be a briefing featuring White House staffers that visited the border (click “expand”):
TRAVERS: The President said yesterday he said he does not have plans to visit the border. Why not?
PSAKI: Because his focus is on action and taking actions and moving forward policies to ensure we are expediting the processing at the border, that we are opening more facilities, that we are putting in place policies that will move kids more quickly through the Border patrol facilities, more quickly into safe and secure homes and that’s where his focus is.
TRAVERS: So, he doesn't want to get a first-hand look down there himself and talk to officials there. How is he getting updates —
PSAKI: He talks to plenty of officials —
PSAKI: — and he has also received a briefing with photos, with — and — directly from his team who went and visited the border and went to a range of facilities.
TRAVERS: And how frequently is he getting updates on some of the numbers of people who are being taken in and how frequently is he talking to officials that are down there who are getting that first-hand look?
PSAKI: Well, he’s getting updates. Sometimes it’s a part of his PDB. He gets updates regularly. I mean, several times a week — it is an issue that is front and center for him, certainly he is asking questions in a range of meetings with senior officials about progress that’s made, about systems that he thinks should be unstuck, about looking for more creative ideas to help ensure these kids are treated and — they are put into — they are treated — they are put into safe places and that the work is expedited at the border.
SUPERVILLE: You talked about the team that went to the border —
SUPERVILLE: — that briefed the President. They’ve shown him photographs.
SUPERVILLE: I think there was a request at some point to have members of that team come back — come to the briefing room and do a briefing. So, where does that stand and since there are photos from that team, why not release those since, with the previous lines of questioning, you have said go to the border patrol or go to DHS for access questions.
PSAKI: I am happy to invite them to the briefing room and talk to them about the photos.
SUPERVILLE: And will that team return to the border or some other configuration of staff members — will they be making periodic trips down there to assess conditions? Or was this one and done?
PSAKI: I expect we’ll have additional trips to the border but I don't have one to preview for you today.