White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki began her week with a briefing so bad that there’s no way to go but up. On Monday’s episode, Psaki arrived with a short fuse and clashed with multiple reporters over basic immigration questions, and blew a gasket at the Fox News Channel’s Kristin Fisher over the administration’s mixed messaging on the refugee cap.
Fisher started with an admission of confusion and an open invitation to clear things up on the White House’s flip-flopping on what number of foreign refugees could be allowed entry into the U.S.: “I’m still just a little bit confused about what changed between 1:00 pm. on Friday and around 4:30p.m. on Friday to go from, ‘We’re not raising the refugee cap to, we are raising it by May 15th.’ What – what changed in those three and a half hours?”
By then, Psaki had fielded numerous questions on it, but Fisher merely wanted the record corrected. Instead, Psaki claimed “we never said we’re not raising the refugee cap” and the administration had always been clear.
Fisher tried to interject, but Psaki demanded she be allowed to “finish” in order to reassert that there was never a doubt that they would maintain Trump immigration levels (though that’s exactly what they had said they would do).
The FNC correspondent inquired about whether Psaki was actually claiming their clarification “had nothing to do with the pushback from some Democrats on Capitol Hill,” but instead of answer this yes or no question, Psaki said Fisher didn’t know what she was talking about (click “expand”):
PSAKI: I don’t think you’ve articulated to me what our change in policy was? What was our change in policy from the morning to the afternoon?
FISHER: The – the Executive Order from Friday morning said that the admission of up to 15,000 refugees remains justified. Period. And yes, there was a caveat that you could raise that cap later. But I mean, it expressively says that right there –
PSAKI: That’s a pretty important caveat, that when we reached 15,000, a subsequent Presidential determination could be made. And again, the biggest challenge –
FISHER: – then why – why did you need to make that clarification?
PSAKI: – because people weren’t understanding what we were conveying to the public and weren’t conveying what we were trying to project to countries around the world and it’s incumbent upon us to make sure there’s an understanding of what the President’s policies are, what he’s trying to achieve, and what he feels morally is that we’re going to welcome in refugees from around the world. Change the policies from the past administration where they were not welcoming in refugees from the Middle East and Africa. And that was important to him to take that first step and move it forward.
FISHER: The line said, “The admission of up to 15,000 refugees remains justified.”
PSAKI: And the –
FISHER: Can you understand how some people would interpret that?
Psaki continued going the personal route (as she did back on March 17), bashing Fisher by saying “we all have a responsibility to provide all of the context” and cited an esoteric claim from Friday morning that Biden would later “increase admissions.”
Fisher reasked the question about interparty pressure, but Psaki stuck to her insistence that “I don’t think you’ve articulated what our change in policy is.” This time, however, Fisher twice shot back that it’s “not my job to do that.”
With this exchange having reached its end, Fisher closed by asking whether the White House as a new “official…position that there is indeed a crisis at the border” since President Biden had used the word “crisis” over the weekend.
Showing Biden wasn’t actually in charge of his own executive branch, Psaki ignored that, suggesting it’s wrong and even offensive to suggest children fleeing “violence, economic hardships, and other dire circumstances is a crisis.”
CBS’s Nancy Cordes was the first reporter to bring up the issue, but she merely noted the change from maintaining the 15,000 cap to increasing it by May 15th and brought up Biden’s “crisis” label in a follow-up.
In both cases, Psaki offered 300-word-plus word salads that blamed the Trump administration for having left them with a lack of staffing to be clear-eyed about their initiatives.
With CNN cameras again focused on the Derek Chauvin trial, Kaitlan Collins again broke free of the Zuckerville tried three times to get an answer about the disconnect from what Biden campaigned on to their initial announcement of continuing the Trump administration limit to breaking in their own.
As with Cordes, Psaki offered lengthy answers that maintained the Office of Refugee Settlement was battered by the previous regime and “hollowed out,” so this one will need time to retool.
No matter how many car analogies Psaki made, she didn’t make it better.
Later, another reporter wondered whether Psaki’s shot at people misunderstanding them was geared at fellow Democrats, which led the White House official to do further mop-up duty.
Back to Collins, she also deserved credit for asking Psaki about the inflammatory comments from Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) about the Chauvin trial (click “expand”):
COLLINS: And you talked about how the White House is preparing for whatever that verdict is. Congresswoman Maxine Waters said over the weekend that, they need to – “we’ve got to stay on the street and we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.” Does the President agree with what she said about getting more confrontational?
PSAKI: Well, I can speak to the President’s view. He has been very clear that he recognizes the issue of police violence against people of color, communities of color, is one of great anguish and it’s exhausting and quite emotional at times. As you know, he met with the Floyd family last year and has been closely following the trial, as we’ve been talking about, and is committed to undoing this long-standing systemic problem. His view is also that exercising First Amendment rights and protesting injustice is the most American thing that anyone can do. But as he also always says, protests must be peaceful. That’s what he continues to call for and what he continues to believe is the right way to approach responding.