Thursday wasn’t supposed to feature a White House press briefing due to a presidential visit to Pennsylvania, but President Biden’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis meant Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was thrown before the press corps and, like most stays, she stepped on plenty of rakes.
Over the course of the briefing, she failed to answer and scoffed at basic questions about how the President contracted the virus, whether she herself is a close contact, and why the administration has kept Biden’s personal physician from reporters. And worse yet, the questions came from reporters across the ideological spectrum.
The hits came early from a reporter in the Associated Press seat, who had perhaps the most benign question of the briefing: “Where exactly was the President infected?”
COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha was puzzled, saying “I don’t think we know” before letting Jean-Pierre step up. By step up, we meant step in it with an exceedingly bad response, stating in part that “I don’t think that matters” as “what matters is we prepared for this moment.”
TheGrio’s April Ryan had a question from the left, demanding to know whether there will be “a push to tell people to start wearing the masks indoors, especially as the President now, we see, has COVID.”
The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker was also in this camp as she inquired about “[w]hat precautions did you take for the person who filmed” a short video of President Biden on the White House balcony updating the public on his positive test.
Jean-Pierre actually answered this question well, saying the person “wore an N95 mask,” was six feet away from Biden, and that it was safe because it was taped outside.
Going back to the nonsensical answers, The Wall Street Journal’s Catherine Lucey drew out a rather silly response when all she wanted to know was Biden’s testing regiment.
As if she were reading liberal talking points about abortion, Jean-Pierre suggested it was no one’s business to know because it’s private: “[I]t is between — it is between him and his personal doctor on that protocol. He has a regular cadence.”
Surprisingly, CNN’s Jeff Zeleny returned to Jean-Pierre’s response to the AP (click “expand”):
ZELENY: Karine, if I could ask you, you said it doesn’t matter where he got it. But how can it not matter where he got it if that is something that, of course, is involved in contact tracing? This administration is taking it very seriously. How can it not matter —
JEAN-PIERRE: I think what I —
ZELENY: — where he got it?
JEAN-PIERRE: — what I was trying say is: What’s important now is that he has mild symptoms, is that he is working from — from the Residence on behalf of the American people. That’s our focus. Look, we knew this was going to happen. As Dr. Jha said, you know, when he was — when he joined me at the briefing — in the briefing room not too long ago, he said this is — this is — you know, everyone was — at some point, everyone is going to get COVID. What is important is to make sure that you have — you get the treatment that is — that we have provided for folks, whether it’s get — make sure you get vaccinated, make sure you get boosted and — and then we have Paxlovid that is made available because of this President, so what I am trying to say is: The moment that we’re in right now is what matters as we’re talking about the President and his treatment and how he’s feeling and how he’s continuing to work on behalf of the American public.
Lefty reporter Eugene Daniels of Politico had another basic question that left the press secretary stumped as he wondered why she wasn’t considered a close contact of Biden’s. Jean-Pierre brushed it aside, claiming she was only with Biden for less than 15 minutes on.
Moving to more usual suspects, Fox’s Jacqui Heinich called out Jean-Pierre’s evasiveness towards an earlier question as to whether Biden himself was recently deemed a close contact of someone who had a positive test (click “expand”):
HEINRICH: And then, can you just confirm for us that there were no positive cases around the President in the last couple of days or that he was not a close contact of anyone who was positive?
JHA: I think you’ve answered this, but feel free.
JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I’ve already answered.
HEINRICH: I don’t think we got an answer.
JEAN-PIERRE: Either — no, I did. I answered it.I told you what our protocols are and we have said —
HEINRICH: But it wasn’t a “yes” or “no.”
JEAN-PIERRE: I — I told you what our protocols were and as we have been committed since the last July, we disclose when the President or one of the — or one of the four principal is a close contact of a staff who tested positive as defined by the CDC. This is defined, again, by the CDC. Or when he tests positive, as we are doing today and being very transparent about that.
HEINRICH: Are we supposed to assume then, because we didn’t hear from you, that that’s a “no”?
JEAN-PIERRE: That’s not what I’m saying. I am saying that we — when there is a close — when there is a close contact to the President, we actually give that information out and we actually share that individual, who’s a staff member, if they have tested positive. That has been — that has actually been our — our protocol since past — this past July, so a year.
HEINRICH: So we didn’t receive anything like that, so am I to assume that there is — there was nothing that happened, there was no positive case where the President was a close contact?
JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, you’re — you’re safe to assume that because that’s what we have been committed to doing since the last July, which is about a year ago.
Real Clear Politics’s Philip Wegmann circled back to questions from the AP and CNN, making clear that while Biden’s health does come first, it’s still important to investigate whom he might have contract the virus from.
“[T]he President travels, right? He travels a lot. He engages with a lot of people,” she said in part.
National Journal’s George Condon elicited perhaps the most heated answer as he slammed the refusal to make White House physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor available for questions, noting Jean-Pierre and Jha haven’t seen Biden or treated him.
After Condon said a refusal to make him available “would be the least transparency of any White House in 50 years on a presidential illness,” an irked Jean-Pierre declared that she would “wholeheartedly disagree” because they’ve behaved “very differently than, I would argue, than the last administration and I am happy to have that conversation with you.”
To see the relevant transcript from the March 21 briefing (including great queries on masks and the presidential line of succession), click here.