Thursday’s White House press briefing quickly devolved into a predictable pattern of near emptiness in terms of answers from Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who ducked questions on issues such as the debunked Russian bounties story, the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, and her party’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court.
Having to fill the role of what often seems like the only person speaking for the Biden administration, Psaki’s Q&A started with the AP’s Aamer Madhani and CNN’s Phil Mattingly trying get answers on the first matter regarding claims dating back to July that Russian intelligence had put out bounties on the heads of U.S. troops.
After Madhani gave Psaki an open-ended question that allowed her to insist that the claims “were enough of a cause of concern that we wanted our intelligence community to look into” them (and it sounded like something Russia would do), Mattingly cut to the chase and how it was a story the Biden team used as a cudgel against President Trump.
“Jen, given that assessment, does the President have any regrets for how many times he attacked President Trump on the campaign about this issue or not taking action related to the Russian bounties,” he asked.
Psaki demurred, saying she wouldn’t “speak to the previous administration, but I will say that we had enough concern about these reports and about the targeting of our men and women serving...that we wanted our intelligence community to look into it” before concluding the claims were of “low to moderate confidence.”
NBC correspondent Peter Alexander came up next and one of his questions focused on the administration’s disastrous pause of the J&J vaccine for its infinitesimally small chance of blood clots, and the fallout due to it being “attractive to those populations that are harder to reach right now.”
Wondering “what specifically is the White House doing now” to bridge the gap, Psaki offered 229 words of nothing, insisting the administration has “had a robust strategy in place long before the announcement by the FDA a couple of days ago” and launched a “program to get fact-based messages into the hands of local messengers” and partner with local organizations to fight vaccine hesitancy.
Fox News’s Kristin Fisher shifted gears to court-packing and had a back-and-forth with Psaki about whether Biden “support[s] the bill just introduced by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to add four seats to the Supreme Court.”
Psaki refused to weigh in, citing Biden’s Supreme Court commission that she claims will be “examining a range of questions about” the Court’s future (which, unless you’re politically ignorant, is only serving as a prolonging of their inevitable support for court-packing).
Fisher kept pressing, trying more times to get an answer (click “expand”):
FISHER: So, I mean, this isn’t just coming from some obscure member of Congress. This is coming from the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. So is the President, is the White House frustrated that Chairman Nadler perhaps didn’t wait for this report from the commission that President Biden just called for last week?
PSAKI: No. The President believes that it’s important to take a look at a range of points of view, whether they are progressive or conservative, a different — different sets of legal opinions, and he looks forward to assessing that himself and I expect he will not have more to convey about any recommendations or views he’ll have until he reads that report. But he certainly understands that members of Congress have a range of views and they’re going to propose legislation. He may or may not support it.
FISHER: So, I just want to be clear here. The President does or does not think that this bill is premature?
PSAKI: He believes that members of Congress have the right to put forward legislation on issues they support. His — his view is that he wants to hear from this commission that has a range of viewpoints.
FISHER: Okay. One more question. Senator Ed Markey, he just said this: “We must expand the court and we must abolish the filibuster to do it.” Is the White House comfortable with a Democratic Senator explicitly linking those two ideas from the steps of the Supreme Court?
PSAKI: The President believes that — in freedom of speech and that members can come forward and share their points of views on a range issues, including the future of the courts. He has his own view and he looks forward to seeing the recommendations that comes out of his court commission.
Three more reporters would see if they would have better luck (which they didn’t).
The Dallas Morning News’s Todd Gillman twice honed in on whether “the President is not ruling out the possibility of expanding the court,” but Psaki insisted that would be “getting a little bit ahead of the process.”
Instead, Psaki tried to have it both ways by saying Biden “look[s] forward to reviewing that report” even though “[h]is position has not changed” from the past about expanding the Court.
Before another reporter ended the briefing by asking about lower courts, Alexander brought up court-packing during a second go-around and even resurrected Biden’s 1983 comments about this that Fox’s Peter Doocy brought up at April 9's briefing (click “expand”):
ALEXANDER: A couple last thoughts as it relates to the expanding the court discussion. Nancy Pelosi, we’ve heard her say she wouldn’t bring that proposal to the floor. Did the President speak to Speaker Pelosi in advance of her making those comments?
PSAKI: I have any calls to read out. I think the President’s been pretty — he’s spoken about his views and obviously we announced the commission publicly last week.
ALEXANDER: And as it relates to his views as a Senator, his view was he was speaking of President Roosevelt then, that he wanted to expand the court by six seats. He said it was, “a boneheaded idea.” Does he still believe it’s “a boneheaded idea?”
PSAKI: Well, the President feels that it’s important to take a look at a range of issues related to the courts and I think that’s an indication that he’s seen the impact in recent years and it’s time to take a — take a fresh and clear look at a range of issues. The size is one of them, but so is the length of service, the selection, the case selection, rules, and practices.