With a week off from the briefing room (having switched off with colleague Jacqui Heinrich) and the Labor Day weekend, Fox’s Peter Doocy returned Wednesday with plenty of questions for Jen Psaki about the Americans stranded in Afghanistan, the Taliban government having more people on the FBI’s Most Wanted List than women, and if engaging with them means they’ll be granted global legitimacy.
And Doocy wasn’t the only reporter on the case as he had plenty of help from CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Voice of America’s Patsy Widakuswara.
Doocy began with a basic question: “The secretary of state said there are limits to what we can do without personnel on the ground? You just said we are not on the ground. Whose fault is that?”
Psaki callously hit back that “I don’t think this is about fault here,” so Doocy interjected that “there are hundreds of Americans” still trapped in Afghanistan, but Psaki chose to downplay it and reject the military adage of not leaving anyone behind.
She insisted “what people want to understand is what we are doing to address it” and, after brushing off those Americans as only “a handful,” she went smart aleck: “I'm sure you’re not suggesting we should have flights with hundreds of people who we don’t know who they are where there’s no security measures.”
Doocy interrupted to ask for a number of “how many Americans is too few to go in,” but Psaki ducked that to revert to her talking point word salad that expressed more concern about vetting who comes into overseas U.S. military bases than the administration has for people flooding the southern border.
Doocy’s next question was fair and spicy: “There are now more terrorists wanted by the FBI in the new Afghan government than there are women. Does the President think that is a foreign policy success?”
Psaki thought she could filibuster her way out, but Doocy wasn’t having any of it (click “expand”):
PSAKI: Well, first of all, no one in the administration, not the President nor anyone on the national security team would suggest that the Taliban are respected and valued members of the global community. They have not earned that in any way and we’re not — we have never assessed that. This is a caretaker cabinet that does include four former imprisoned Taliban fighters. We have not validated that. We have not conveyed we’re going to recognize it. What we are working to do — and nor are we rushing to recognition, there’s a lot they have to do before that — what we are working to do is to engage with them because they oversee and control Afghanistan right now to get American citizens, legal permanent residents, SIV applicants out of Afghanistan.
DOOCY: But you —
PSAKI: We have to engage with them.
DOOCY: — but to engage with them? Their new acting interior minister is a Haqqani terrorist. He’s wanted for a bombing that killed six people including an American. He's believed to have participated in cross-border attacks against U.S. troops. There is a $10 million bounty on his head. Why are we engaging with the government —
PSAKI: Should we not — should we not talk to the people who are overseeing Afghanistan and just leave it and not get rest of the American citizens out?
DOOCY: What are you waiting for them to do? They just formed their government. Are you waiting for something — some —
PSAKI; Waiting for what?
PSAKI: — some specif — you're saying that we’re not going to rush to recognition. That means there could be recognition.
PSAKI: As we’ve said many times, the international community is watching, the United States is watching. It’s whether they let people depart the country who want to depart, whether they treat women across the country as they have committed to treat them —
DOOCY: And we’ve seen they’re not doing that.
PSAKI: — and how they behave and operate. And therefore, we’re not moving toward recognition. At the same time, we’re dealing with a reality world here where we have to engage in order to get citizens out of the country.
Prior to Doocy, Mattingly broke the ice on Afghanistan since he was “trying to square where things actually stand” on these “flights that have been stuck”: “What is your understanding of the hold-up and if the Taliban is preventing them, what levers do you have right now?”
Psaki also downplayed the number of abandoned Americans as part of an answer that was the size of what our Nick Fondacaro had dubbed a few weeks ago as a word salad and breadsticks from Olive Garden.
Widakuswara immediately jumped in with a question connecting the dots in that, if the Taliban are “the only one[s] who [have] access and who’s able to check passenger documentation,” then how will the U.S. ever be able to verify people without personnel being on the ground.
Psaki returned for a second helping of word salad and, when Widakuswara tried to follow up, Psaki moved onto the safety blanket of CBS’s Weijia Jiang as she had a COVID question.
Speaking of tough questions, Newsmax’s Emerald Robinson shouted a question as Psaki and her team left the room “on the story about Dr. Fauci yesterday in The Intercept” in which “the documents released” revealed, “he was untruthful.”
Psaki has repeatedly shown that she’s no fan of Robinson, so she ignored her and shut the door.
Elsewhere in the briefing, ABC chief White House correspondent Cecilia Vega had questions from the left on Texas’s abortion law, starting with a softball seeking White House comment on Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) saying the state’s going to “work tirelessly” to go after rapists in light of the abortion law’s zero exceptions for rape.
Vega went further to the left in her second question with a plea of help “for women in Texas right now who might be in need of having an abortion” because “the clock is ticking” (click “expand”):
VEGA: I want to push a little bit on that part, this looking for options. You know, for women in Texas right now who might be in need of having an abortion, who perhaps are looking at this white house for a hail Mary intervention, the clock is ticking for them, the clock is literally ticking for them today. So, in terms of their decision-making, can this administration offer any help to them now? What — what would you tell these women who are looking to this White House to help them? Is help on the way?
PSAKI: Well, we would tell them, first, that this law is a violation of your rights and we are going to do everything we can to provide assistance as quickly as we can. One of the reasons why the department of health and human services is a key component here is obviously because they oversee the nation's healthcare systems, but they are going to look for ways to make sure we are providing access to healthcare to women in Texas. I — I noted the Department of Justice announced a step that they were taking on Monday, Clearly, this law is — is — or this — this bill that was signed into law is something we strongly oppose and there’s an urgency to looking for and announcing actions to help women now. And certainly, we understand that women are looking at their choices right now, today, tomorrow, last week. And we are hopeful we will have more to convey to them directly.
VEGA: But is there tangible help that’s on the way? Would the White House support the FDA lifting restrictions on Mifepristone, the abortion — called the abortion pill?
PSAKI: This is a decision that the FDA has to make on their own based on science. And, certainly, we believe in the independence of the FDA to make these decisions and we know there are a number of advocates who have called for that but we’ll leave that decision to the FDA.
To see the relevant transcript from the September 8 briefing, click here.