Tuesday’s White House press briefing was jam-packed amid Russian troops gathering on the border with Ukraine and a high-stakes call between President Biden and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, so it was a welcome sight when Fox’s Jacqui Heinrich and others highlighted the U.S.’s acquiescence to Russia on the Nord Stream II pipeline, Biden’s lack of public comments about the tensions, and whether he’ll handle it differently than Afghanistan.
Following lengthy remarks and a Q&A with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, CBS’s Nancy Cordes set up Press Secretary Jen Psaki by wondering whether the White House has “put plans in place in case Americans in Ukraine need to be evacuated quickly.”
Psaki insisted the U.S. has always had “contingency plan[s] for a range of potential scenarios...to keep...U.S. personnel safe” even though “[w]e’re not even at that point right now,” which still allowed Cordes the opening to tie in Afghanistan.
“Are there any lessons that were learned during the mass evacuation in Afghanistan that are already being — being heeded this time around as you begin contingency planning,” Cordes asked.
Ignoring the fact that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would mean there would be a war going on, Psaki insisted that “it’s really important for people not to compare the two” since “Afghanistan was a war zone” with U.S. involvement having spanned two decades.
Unfortunately, Cordes didn’t get a chance to push back.
As for Heinrich, she had two questions about Nord Stream II with one pertaining to whether the administration regrets greenlighting it and about whether they believe Russia is “using gas as a geopolitical weapon.”
In both cases, Psaki insisted there was no there there, ruling that taking action on the pipeline wouldn’t have deterred Putin (click “expand”):
Jake talked a little bit about conversations with Germany regarding Nord Stream II. Can you at all characterize the process of arriving at some sort of an agreement about what might and involving Nord Stream II if Russia is to move forward? And does the administration have any regrets at this point about not — about waving sanctions against Nord Stream II back this spring?
[B]ecause you brought up the members on The Hill who often talk about Nord Stream II and Jake’s July statement, these members say that Russia has taken action that — you know — using gas as a geopolitical weapon. They point to, you know, coercing and manipulating countries in Europe over the course of the summer, you know, taking advantage of the energy crisis, for instance, just a couple months ago and Biden and Merkel promised sanctions if those events were to transpire. Does the White House believe that what we’ve seen up until now is not Russia using gas as a geopolitical weapon?
Heinrich ended with a question on rising crime and specifically whether the White House agrees with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that claims of a rise in smash-and-grab robberies are fake news:
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared to pass some blame on to retailers for these smash and grabs, saying that she’s disappointed that these stores are not put in [sic] security officers in place, having working cameras, and chaining up high-end bags. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — Congresswoman said earlier this week also that she doubted allegations of organized retail thefts....Does the President believe that organized retail theft is really happening and should it be on the stores themselves to take action to prevent it?
Having flipped through her binder for an answer, Psaki said they “don’t agree and I think our actions...show that we take” it seriously.
NBC’s Kristen Welker had perhaps the strongest question of the briefing as she wanted to know what the growing number of foreign policy crises on Biden’s watch meant for his ability to lead on the world stage (click “expand”):
WELKER: The withdrawal from Afghanistan over the summer was widely criticized. There are increasing tensions with China and Taiwan, and now you have Russian troops amassing on the border with Ukraine. Candidate Biden campaigned on a pledge to restore America’s credibility on the world stage on his foreign policy experience. Is he living up to that pledge?
PSAKI: Well, Kristen, he also campaigned on a promise to bring an end to a 20-year war that should have ended 10 years ago and to bring our troops home and not to send another son, grandson, granddaughter, or daughter into a war that the Afghans aren’t willing to fight themselves. He also pledged to stand up for democracy and pledged to stand up for countries like Ukraine and their territorial integrity and that’s something that he is standing up for and vocally doing now and raising concerns he has about the bellicose rhetoric and the military buildup and he also pledged to stand up for human rights. And you saw this decision we made yesterday. Not made yesterday, but the announcement, I should say, made yesterday about the decision to not send a diplomatic presence to the Olympics because he believes it needs to be more than words. It needs to be actions. And I think he is certainly delivering on his values and how he proposed he would be leading in the world.
A few minutes later, CBS News Radio correspondent Steven Portnoy called for Biden “to address the American people on” Ukraine “given the stakes” and “serious consequences,” but Psaki saw little reason to commit to having the elderly President do so, saying she didn’t “have anything to preview.”
Speaking of inaction, Psaki ducked more China questions as The New York Times’s Zolano Kanno-Youngs twice pressed for an administrative position on calls for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to move the 2022 Winter Olympics out of China.
Using one of her tried and true tactics, Psaki played dumb and claimed she hasn’t “heard that’s an option under consideration.”
To see the relevant transcript from December 7’s briefing, click here.