Wednesday’s White House press briefing continued another tough stretch for the Biden administration on a myriad of issues as Fox’s Peter Doocy and colleagues both in conservative media -- and even the liberal media -- had questions for Press Secretary Jen Psaki on the border crisis, China, the coronavirus, eviction moratoriums, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), and the history of allegations of inappropriate behavior against President Biden.
Before even Doocy took his turn, the AP’s Jonathan Lemire used his pole position to ask five separate questions about Cuomo concerning whether Biden had spoken with Cuomo, if the White House had done so, when was the last time Biden spoke to Cuomo, if Biden supports Cuomo’s impeachment, and whether Biden had confidence in Cuomo leading the state’s Covid response.
A few minutes later, it was Doocy’s turn and he led off with the CDC’s extension of the eviction moratorium and the undercovered topic of how the moratorium had hurt landlords (specifically ones who weren’t major corporations) and their ability to make a living.
“There's been a major push here recently to protect tenants from being affected — evicted right now. Why isn't more being done to help the landlords who are struggling to pay their bills because they're not being paid,” asked Doocy.
Psaki deflected by insisting it’s on folks like Doocy to get the word out about assistance for landlords, which led Doocy to cite a Washington Post article that said extending the moratorium “could drive thousands of minor landlords to bankruptcy.”
Doocy’s second topic was immigration and he pointed to the fact that “people are coming in record numbers” despite pleas from President Biden and Vice President Harris not to as a way of asking whether Biden still “think[s] his immigration plan is working.”
After Psaki said in part that “we're still at work on...improving a system that was very broken,” Doocy twice pointed out (to no avail) that people were clearly ignoring the administration as evidenced by numbers that are at a two-decade high.
The New York Post’s Steven Nelson made his return by inquiring about whether China should have to pay for the damage it’s inflicted on the world with Covid-19 and the sexual misconduct claims against the President. On both topics, Psaki was not amused (click “expand”):
NELSON: On COVID-19, former President Trump has called for China to pay the United States more than $10 trillion in reparations, as a result of letting the coronavirus escape Wuhan and infect other countries, causing, of course, 600,000 American deaths and economic devastation. President Biden hasn’t called for reparations from China. Does he support them? Does he think that China should pay us financially for what it has allowed to spread?
PSAKI: Our policy hasn’t changed.
NELSON: So is he open to —
PSAKI: Did you have another question?
NELSON: — yes. In a follow-up to the report on Governor Cuomo’s sexual harassment, a lot of men in politics have been accused of sexual harassment. President Biden was accused by female Secret Service agents of skinny dipping in front of them, offending them, according to former Washington Post reporter Ronald Kessler, who’s an author as well. His former Senate aide Tara Reade accused him of sexual assault. [JOHN GIZZI’s PHONE GOES OFF] The Washington Post and The New York Times published multiple accounts of women who objected to the way President Biden touched them. Should there be an independent investigation of allegations into the president as there was into Governor Cuomo?
PSAKI: Well, first I would say the president has been clear and outspoken about the importance of women being respected and having their voices heard and being allowed to tell their stories and people treating them with respect. That has long been his policy, continues to be his policy. That — those — that was heavily litigated during the campaign. I understand you’re eager to come back to it, but I don’t have anything further, other than to repeat that he has called for the governor to resign.
Reacting to the second question, Biden accuser Tara Reade tweeted that her story wasn’t “litigated at all” and added this in another:
Real Clear Politics’ Philip Wegmann went back-and-forth with Psaki on evictions, but similarly came away empty-handed on the question of when Biden “became certain that he was on solid, legal standing to move forward with this extension” after he and his advisers had seemed rock solid that it wasn’t legal.
But Wegmann was set up by an extremely important and admirable series of questions from CBS News Radio’s Steven Portnoy about whether this extension showed Americans that Biden “doesn’t respect the rule of law” (click “expand”)
PORTNOY: One more question on the eviction moratorium, I’ll approach it this way. The President may support the legal justification, but he also publicly gave voice to doubts about the constitutionality. What’s the White House’s message then to Americans who heard what happened yesterday, heard what was said at this podium on Monday, can’t square the two, and are now disappointed that the President is signaling that he doesn’t respect the rule of law?
PSAKI: I’m not sure there are Americans evaluating it to that degree. Maybe there are some you have talked to, I don’t know. What the President has — his message to the American people, especially those who are concerned about losing their homes, being kicked out of their homes, is that he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure they can stay in their homes as long as possible. That is not just an extension of the eviction moratorium, which obviously a step was taken yesterday.
PORTNOY: But the President’s a lawyer, spent 36 years in the Senate, was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, eight years a Vice President, half a year as President, he speaks often about democracy versus autocracy, he’s issuing or overseeing this order from the CDC, in the face of doubts about its constitutionality, which he seemed to echo yesterday. There’s no inconsistency here? The President is — I mean, there are many people out there who say that the President is — is essentially not giving voice to the ethic that he campaigned on. He didn’t call Congress back. He asked Congress to act. It didn’t. How do you square all that?
PSAKI: You know I’m going to ask you who’s saying that.
PORTNOY: Well, there are plenty of people who are saying it. They are not just Republicans.
PSAKI: Okay, I’ll — I’ll leave that to others to figure out. But I think what’s important to note here, is that the President would not have moved forward with a step where he didn’t feel comfortable and confident in the legal justification. It is also a reality that there are legal steps that have been taken by the Supreme Court in the last few months, and we have spoken to that publicly. We’re not going to hide from that. But he asked the CDC and his legal experts to look at what is possible. This is a narrow, targeted moratorium that is different from the national moratorium. It’s not an extension of that. It’s a different moratorium from a policy and legal standpoint, so he felt comfortable in the justification and the legal approach to this effort.
Making a second straight appearance in the Q&A, the Daily Caller’s Shelby Talcott invoked “a Harris poll released this week that indicates the majority of Americans believe the worst of the pandemic is still ahead,” in order to press Psaki on why that’s the case and if the “White House [is] concerned at all that it’s fueled this dramatic shift in public sentiment.”
Psaki dismissed the White House’s role in the fear-mongering because an earlier poll “showed that more vaccinated Americans were concerned about the rise of Delta than unvaccinated [people were].”
To Psaki’s credit, she noted (as she has previously) that such a fear among vaccinated Americans wasn’t grounded in the facts.
To see the relevant transcript from August 4's briefing (including questions from CNN’s Phil Mattingly and USA Today’s Joey Garrison that drew deeply partisan statements form Psaki), click here.