Ahead of President Biden’s early Thursday evening speech calling for more forced vaccinations and touting masks, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki took to the Briefing Room podium and faced fire from Fox’s Peter Doocy and Real Clear Politics’s Philip Wegmann on Afghanistan and also CBS’s Weijia Jiang and ABC’s Rachel Scott about the sudden change of heart on vaccine mandates.
Doocy did get to Afghanistan, but he first brought up the government documents unveiled by The Intercept showing that Dr. Tony Fauci had some explaining to do on his claims the U.S. hasn’t funded gain of function research in Wuhan:
You’ve said from that podium that, under no circumstance would President Biden ever fire Dr. Fauci. Is that still the case since Fauci told Congress the NIH never funded gain of function research for coronaviruses in Wuhan, but documents published by The Intercept suggest that is not true, which would mean that he misled Congress?
Psaki insisted that the “NIH has refuted that reporting” because “NIH has never approved any research that would make a coronavirus more dangerous to humans” and “the bat coronavirus sequences published from that work NIH supported” wasn’t Covid-19.
After a quick follow-up about Fauci’s job safety, Doocy wanted to know “why the White House in a statement is calling the Taliban businesslike and professional.”
Psaki replied that the statement was meant to commemorate the first flight and acknowledge that “the Taliban was cooperative in facilitating the departure of these American citizens and legal permanent residents from HKIA.”
She went onto say that the administration has proven they follow through on their promises, but Doocy was unmoved and reminded her that new Afghan Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani is on the FBI’s Most Wanted list (click “expand”):
DOOCY: But you’re saying the Taliban is businesslike and professional. Their interior minister has a FBI Wanted poster. He’s got a $10 million bounty on his head. That’s — what’s the business?
PSAKI: We are here to celebrate the return of American citizens who wanted to leave Afghanistan, of legal permanent residents, of Afghans who fought by our side to Qatar successfully on a Qatari airlines flight and in order get them out, we had to work with some members of the Taliban to press them and to work in a businesslike manner to get them out.
PSAKI: That is what we were stating in this statement.
DOOCY: And in that statement, it says, “this is a positive first step.” Towards what?
PSAKI: Towards getting additional people out who want to leave Afghanistan.
Wegmann came up later and pushed back on Psaki’s claim that there’s only about 100 Americans stranded in Afghanistan (click “expand”):
WEGMANN: This morning, you noted that the current count is that there’s about 100 Americans in Afghanistan. My colleague, Susan Crabtree, is hearing from sources with direct knowledge who say that it’s about 143 U.S. citizens and then also, permanent legal residents there at the airport. Did the number that you are referring to this morning on Morning Joe — did that include permanent legal residents? Does the administration have a count of how many might be there? And then, how — I guess, how hopeful are you that a lot of these folks are clustered there at the airport and can get out?
PSAKI: We do have counts and the State Department is the best source to give accurate information about all of these numbers. And of course, we account for permanent legal residents as well. The reason I said — and to give just a little more context because I know that this feels confusing to people — not anyone in this room, but — is that — the number can range. I mean, one of the — the important pieces of context to understand is that even as we work to get American citizens — and we’ll get you the number later this afternoon once it’s confirmed — out, there were individuals who didn’t show up today for a range of reasons. We know that will happen. We will continue to remain engaged with these individuals about when they need to leave. And there are days when people are not ready to leave. That may change next week, so it’s around 100. The State Department will have the most up-to-date numbers.
On the Covid front, the ever-compliant liberal media surprisingly came with some sensible questions.
Jiang brought up the sudden change to mass vaccination mandates given the fact that “[t]he original mandate for federal workers that included an option for testing, regular testing, just went into effect a little over a month ago.”
Psaki cited the delta variant and wanting the federal workforce to serve as an example of requiring the vaccine or be fired, but Jiang noted that the delta variant “was already circulating.”
To that, Psaki spun the change as the “next” move in a “series of steps” to get the virus under control.
Jiang also asked for “how many federal workers have not been vaccinated” and why the federal workforce will only require a verbal claim of vaccination. On the latter, Psaki said she herself wasn’t sure and, on the other, she said it’ll be different “agency to agency.”
Scott came next and she wondered if Biden was “overconfidence in July” when he declared “independence from” the virus and, in a follow-up, whether he gave “Americans a false sense” of security.
Of course, Psaki punted by blaming both the delta variant and an insufficient number of unvaccinated Americans.
In contrast, CNN’s Jeff Zeleny had a softball: “What is the frustration level from the President that he’s giving yet another speech urging Americans to get vaccinated?”
Longtime radio correspondent Bob Costantini was also on Team Biden: “[H]ow bold is the President willing to be as far as the private sector is concerned in the vaccine mandate area? Even if they don't have federal contracts, can the Department of Labor or anybody else compel major employers[?]”
To see the relevant briefing transcript from September 9, click here.