Cleaning Up Loose Ends: Best & Worst Questions From 2023’s Last Two WH Briefings

December 22nd, 2023 4:06 PM

With Tuesday and Thursday serving as the final White House press briefings of 2023, we had everything from questions at the border — which was a focus of the year’s first briefing — to more pro-Hamas idiocy.

Starting with Thursday, the best exchange came when the Fox Business Network’s Hillary Vaughn battled the National Security Council’s John Kirby over the latest flare-up in the seemingly never-ending Biden border crisis.

Vaughn started with the simple question of whether President Biden had “seen photos and videos from the past week of the sea of people crossing into this country illegally” beyond being briefed.

When Kirby demurred, Vaughn called out the administration’s pro-illegal immigration policies, such as giving illegals nearly a decade to mill about the country before a judge will hear their asylum claims: “Some illegal border crossers are being given court dates in 2031. What are they supposed to do here for seven years?”


Kirby took a page from his far-more-inept colleague, Karine Jean-Pierre, by punting to Homeland Security since he’s “not in a position to — to talk about specific cases like that”.

Vaughn kept pressing, pointing out Biden seems to be creating this crisis “for the next president” and if he believes it’s a problem to allow people to put down roots here before presumably being deported if their asylum claim is denied. On all counts, Kirby said he wouldn’t get into “hypothetical[s]” even though they are, in fact, quite real (click “expand”):

VAUGHN: After someone has lived here for seven years and presumably gotten a work permit and worked here, if their asy- — asylum claim is denied, are they really going to be deported? Or is that just a problem for the next president?

KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about specific cases. He does believe we need — and he has worked to increase legal pathways to citizenship. But obviously, illegal pathways, you know, they — you need to be held to account if you’re trying to come into the country illegally.

VAUGHN: But is the President thinking this far down the line? I mean, people are being given court dates seven years from now. So, is he creating a big problem for another president to have to figure out —

KIRBY: The President —

VAUGHN: — if these people are going to be deported after just working, living, maybe having families here for seven years?

KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to get into hypothetical cases here. On day one of the administration, the President put to Congress a proposal for immigration reform. He has said, in recent days, he’s willing to have a serious discussion with members of Congress about immigration policy. So, let’s see where that goes. But he’s taking the issue very, very seriously.


KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.

JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Admiral.

VAUGHN: It’s not a hypothetical question. People are being given court dates in 2031.

JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Admiral.

KIRBY: Thank you.

JEAN-PIERRE: Happy holidays.

Fortunately, Vaughn wasn’t alone. Earlier in Kirby’s portion, ABC’s MaryAlice Parks had a simple question: “Can you point to one thing the White House is doing right now that is making an impact on the border, is making an impact with this current surge?”

Kirby, of course, didn’t have a real answer and instead cited the supplemental funding request from the administration to Congress, which would be more aimed at upping funding for agents to process illegal immigrants so they can get on their merry ways.

In the seat usually occupied by Vaughn’s husband, Peter Doocy, their colleague Rich Edson also had a simple question Kirby answered with a whole lot of nothing: “How successful would you say the administration’s efforts to stem root flow, to get to the root causes of migration have been?”

And, in the pro-Gaza camp, the AP’s Zeke Miller suggested it’s an open question of whether Israel or Hamas is responsible for Gazan suffering in the war and then Parks wondered both “how Americans are supposed to sit with” the scores of dead children in Gaza and if Biden’s out of step with the Democratic Party (click “expand”):

MILLER: The United Nations says one in four civilians in Gaza is starving. Does the U.S. believe that assessment or — or accept that assessment of the situation on the ground in Gaza? And who is to blame for the humanitarian situation on the ground (inaudible)?


PARKS: And then on — on Gaza again. It’s the end of the year. I think a lot of — as you can see in the other questions — Americans are reflecting on this humanitarian crisis. You know, we’ve seen the estimates that the death toll reached 20,000. The WHO saying repeatedly that one child is killed in Gaza every 10 minutes. Can you just reflect a little bit more on the humanitarian crisis that you’re seeing and how Americans are supposed to sit with that reality?


PARKS: [W]hy are we seeing these Democratic lawmakers — you know, Tuesday, we saw this letter from, really, moderate Democratic lawmakers saying that he’s not doing enough, that he should be using even more levers of power to try to change how military — how — how the Israeli military is prosecuting this war. I mean, is he out of step with his party? He’s not the — even Democrats are saying he’s not doing enough.

Starting with the Israel-Hama issue for Tuesday’s briefing, Nadia Bilbassy of Saudi-funded Alarabiya told Kirby that leftist “Pope Francis suggested that Israel is using terrorism tactic after two Christian Palestinian women were shot dead by the sniper in a Gaza church” and even the argument that Kirby represents Israel, not the U.S. government.

While he certainly kicked some tires in response to her questions this fall, Kirby didn’t this time and punted on both.

CNN White House reporter Kevin Liptak hit Kirby from the left on the war, asking if Biden’s “concerned that there’s a risk that the U.S. seems out of step” in defending Israel “with some of its closest allies.”

Kirby clapped back here, arguing the differences are on the margins and the U.S. wasn’t going to change from the reality that a permanent ceasefire “would simply validate what Hamas did on the 7th of October” and “give them” time “to prepare and plan additional attacks.”

ABC’s Mary Bruce came from the left to Jean-Pierre, fretting any appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of a Texas law to charge and deport illegal immigrants might not go their way since there’s “now obviously a more conservative Court” than previous cases on the border and federalism.

In contrast, the Daily Mail’s Emily Goodin and Fox’s Jacqui Heinrich pressed Jean-Pierre on Hunter Biden’s presence on Marine One this week with his father (click “expand”):

GOODIN: With the holidays coming up, which members of the Biden family will be spending Christmas with the President and the First Lady? And then, I noticed today when the President arrived on Marine One that Hunter Biden and his son, Beau, were also on the helicopter with them.  The White House provides to the public a list of staffers who travel with the President.  Why don’t they provide a list of the family members that travel with the President on these government-funded —

JEAN-PIERRE: So, I — I have to double-check to see if that is indeed correct because I did ask about that. So, let me just double-check. Look, I’ll say this more broadly: Obviously, you’ve seen the President with his family these past couple of days and I think you know why. They were — they were — they were observing a very somber anniversary for them and so — so, I’m not going to add anything more to that, but this was a — obviously, a somber moment in the — in the family and so, they were, certainly, together to — you know, to — to acknowledge and take part in that anniversary, so we just want to be really sensitive to that and make that very, very clear and don’t have anything to add about the family. Obviously, the President is very close to his family. As it relates to the holidays, he spends, obviously, every holiday with his family — mostly every holiday with his family. I just don’t have a list of names to share with you at this time.


HEINRICH: Will the White House announce Hunter Biden’s presence on Marine One moving forward? 

JEAN-PIERRE: That’s something that we’ve never done. That — this is the family. The family gets to travel with — with the President, and — and that’s been the case with every other president and so, it’s not something that we have done or — or we would be doing moving forward.

HEINRICH: The reason I ask is just the legal trouble he’s facing, if leaving him off the list would appear to sound like an effort to conceal him and I guess the question that it begs is: Why does the President think it’s appropriate that taxpayer dollars should be used to fly him around when he’s been indicted and just defied a congressional subpoena? 

JEAN-PIERRE: So, I would refer you to Hunter’s personal representatives as it relates to any questions about the legal affairs, but as you know — as you know, as it relates to the past couple of days, as I just stated to your colleague, is that, you know, the President and their family were — obviously, it was a somber — a somber anniversary that they were recognizing and so, you could imagine what that is like for them and — and I’ll say, lastly, and I’ve said this many times before, the President and the First Lady love their son very, very much, but as it relates to anything in regards to his legal affairs, I would have to certainly refer you to his representatives. I just don’t have anything else to add on that.

To see the relevant briefing transcripts (with even more questions), click here (for December 19) and here (for December 21).