Here’s What You Missed (or Not) from 2024’s First White House Press Briefings

January 8th, 2024 6:15 PM

Last week featured only two White House press briefings (Wednesday and Thursday), but it brought about more of the same as the National Security Council’s John Kirby helmed much of both installments when taking questions about foreign policy and the ever-inept Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began 2024 with nothing but venom for Biden’s opponents on domestic issues.

Not so coincidentally, the two briefings came prior to a hilarious Axios item on Friday that revealed Kirby and Jean-Pierre reportedly have an icy relationship.

Below are the best and worst questions from the week with some including full or partial answers from Kirby or Jean-Pierre. We’ll lead off with the absolute worst exchange, which featured Al Jazeera’s White House reporter accusing the U.S. — not Iran-backed Houthis firing on civilian commercial ships — as escalating tensions in the Red Sea

Absolute Worst: Al Jazeera Shill Shills for Iran-Backed Terrorists

Click “expand” to see the full back and forth featuring Kirby and Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett:

Halkett: “Admiral, you said the United States doesn’t want a second front. And you also said that Israel has a right and responsibility to go after Hamas leadership. But isn’t the United States and the President — aren’t they exactly widening and escalating this, given the fact that the U.S. is supporting chasing Hamas leadership outside of Gaza? I mean, the fact that it’s going into Lebanon, a sovereign nation.”

Kirby: “Again, your question is presuming an awful lot and is presuming that I said things I didn’t say. I — I’m not —”

Halkett: “I have it right here, in Otter.”

Kirby: “— I’m not confirming that the — that the Israelis took this airstrike. I would refer you to them to speak to their military operations.”

Halkett: “They haven’t denied it.”

Kirby: “Nevertheless, I’m not confirming that they — that they — that they took this strike. They have a right and a responsibility to go after Hamas leadership, and we expect that they’ll do that in accordance with international law. Nothing has changed about the fact that we don’t want the conflict to widen. I mean, heck, my opening statement was four or five pages’ worth of talking about all the kind of capabilities that the President is putting in the region to prevent that very outcome.”

Halkett: “Okay. So, let me follow up on that then. Given the Red Sea patrols, we knew in advance of those being set up that the Iranian defense minister said very clearly, “Nobody can make a move in a region where we have predominance.” The United States knew that, set it up anyway. Is that not being seen as a provocation? If you know that Iran sees that as a provocation, you take the action anyway.”

Kirby: “Wow. Well, that’s certainly turning things on their — upside down, isn’t it? Wouldn’t — wouldn’t you consider a provocation the launching of ballistic missiles and drones at commercial —”

Halkett: “Well, the United States —”

Kirby: “— wait, wait, wait. Let me —”

Halkett: “— doesn’t have soil there.”

Kirby: “— let me finish. Wouldn’t that be considered a provocation, taking — targeting innocent merchant shipping —”

Halkett: “I’m asking you the question.”

Kirby: “— and innocent merchant sailors? That’s a provocation. What we’re doing, what Prosperity Guardian is all about –and go on the web and you can look at it — it’s a defensive posture. It’s a coalition of the willing of maritime nations coming together to try to protect international shipping, shipping that affects the global economy.”

Halkett: “But it’s led to an escalation, because, in turn, what has happened is —”

Kirby: “No ma’am. No ma’am.”

Halkett: “— so, you’re denying, then, that there has been an escalation since the Red Sea patrol?”

Kirby: “I totally disagree with the premise of your question.”

Halkett: “Okay, but since the —”

Kirby: “It wasn’t the United States who decided to attack commercial shipping in the Red Sea. The Houthis did that. And who are the Houthis backed by? Iran. As I’ve said before, Iran provided the missiles that the Houthis are using. We are simply in a defensive posture to try to protect that commercial shipping, and we have in the last 48 hours.”

Halkett: “And since then, there’s been an escalation. Now, Iran has launched a frigate into that. So, there has been escalation.”

Kirby: “Okay, again, let me stop you. The fact that they —”

Halkett: “So, has the United — I ask you again: Has the United States’ actions supported an escalation as a result?”

Kirby: “— no.”

Halkett: “You said that the Pres- — your words said —”

Kirby: “You asked me a question, ma’am. I answered it. No.”

Jean-Pierre: “We got to move on.”

Halkett: “You said nothing the President has ordered has been designed to widen or deepen this conflict.”

Kirby: “I stand by my answer. No.”

Jean-Pierre: “Okay, we’ve got to move on.”

— Exchange during the January 3 briefing, 2:37 p.m. Eastern.


Best: Is Biden Every Going to Go to East Palestine?

Daily Mail’s Rob Crilly: “Does the President still have plans to visit the disaster site in East Palestine, Ohio?

Jean-Pierre: “So, I don’t have any — anything — any schedule of the President...I will say this: The President continues to oversee...a robu — robust recovery effort to support the people of East Palest — Palestine and we will visit when it is most helpful. The President will visit when it’s almost helpful to the community and so, we’re going to continue to stay on the ground...while ensuring that Norfolk Southern is held accountable...[T]his is another thing that we want Congress to act on. It is important that they do their part to enhance rail safety...[T]he President is going to continue to be there for the community, as he has been[.]”

— Exchange on January 3, 3:03 p.m. Eastern.


Best: You Going to Do Anything to Hold the Pro-Palestinian U.N. to Account?

Ami magazine’s Jake Turx: “What’s your reaction to U.S.-funded agencies like UNRWA that have had a presence in these hospitals, that have had schools that is being alleged to have been used as stockpiles for weapons? Is this — does this make them complicit in any way? How does the administration view this? And is there any way that you plan on adjusting your strategy moving forward as far as dealing with UNRWA and other such agencies?”

Kirby: “UNRWA...does important work. In fact, they’re doing a lot of heavy lifting right now in terms of trying to get food, water, medicine to the people of Gaza...They’re doing a lot of work, and they’re doing it in harm’s way..[Y]ou can’t hold them accountable for...the way Hamas uses civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, to — for command and control, for storage of weapons, for the holding of hostages.

Turx: “Shouldn’t that, at the very least, raise the alarm if their own facilities are being used in the military —”

Kirby: “Well, look, I’ll — I’ll let the U.N. speak to their agency and what — and what alarms they want to raise or not. We —”

Turx: “We’re — we gave them a billion dollars.”

Kirby: “They do good work in Gaza...I will let them speak to whatever concerns they have over Hamas’s activities and the degree to which that they feel obligated to speak out or not...[I]t’s not some state secret here that Hamas hides itself in hospitals and schools and digs tunnels under residential complexes and neighborhoods.”

— Exchange on January 4, 1:47 p.m. Eastern.


Dumbest: Isn’t Joe Jazzed About Wind Turbines?

Associated Press’s Darlene Superville: “For the first time in the U.S., there are wind turbines that have sent electricity to the grid — that there’s a wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts. It delivered some power just before midnight on Wednesday. It’s a project the Biden administration had signed off on. I was just wondering if, you know, the President supports this kind of energy. Is he aware? Any reaction that you can share?”

— January 3 briefing, 2:44 p.m. Eastern.


Dumbest: Should Americans Be Masking Up to Fight COVID?

ABC’s Karen Travers: “Some hospitals in at least eight states have brought back some form of masking now due to rising cases of respiratory viruses, including the flu and COVID. Does the White House think more hospitals across the country should be considering that right now?”

Jean-Pierre: “The masking piece?”

Travers: “Mm-hmm.”

Jean-Pierre: “That is — and we’ve been — always been very consistent on this. That is something that is localized...hospitals, communities, cities, states, they have to make their own decisions. That’s not something that we get involved in.”

Travers: “And what about Americans broadly now? There’s 31 states in the latest data that have high or very high levels of respiratory illness: RSV, flu, and COVID. What should Americans be doing? What’s the recommendation?

Jean-Pierre: “So, look, it is up to each and — each and every American to make their protect themselves from the impact of COVID — whether it’s a vaccine, whether it’s at-home testing...and treatment...[T]here are tools available...It is up to them...That is not something that we’re going to regulate.”

— January 4 briefing, 2:14 p.m. Eastern.


Dumbest: Reuters Questions Whether U.S. Can Even Have “Free & Fair Elections”

Reuters’s Trevor Hunnicutt: “[D]oes he think the United States is ready to have free and fair elections in November?”

Jean-Pierre: “Well, it’s — we have to. I mean, that is what we need — we have to. That’s what the President believes in, right? He believes in having a democracy that works, on having a free and fair election. That’s something that he has spoken to...[T]hat is something that the different agencies who are involved are certainly making sure...Americans are able to — to vote freely on — in November.”

— January 3 briefing, 2:47 p.m. Eastern.


Best: Does the Biden White House Regret Letting Iran Have Frozen Money Back?

Fox’s Jacqui Heinrich: “John, Iran made two transactions withdrawing from the previously frozen funds in Oman. What were those transactions for?”

Kirby: “I don’t have the details on that, Jacqui. You’re going to have to let me get back to you on that.”


Heinrich: “More the administration at all reconsidering its decisions to finance Iran indirectly by allowing these sanctions waivers to go forward given the pro — the level of proxy attacks that we have seen?...[T]he Assistant Treasury Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes...said that any details, you know, about those transactions would have to be provided in a classified setting. You know, why would we need to have that information be behind closed doors when that money is supposed to only be for humanitarian purposes? It should be, you know, transparent...I know the administration also, sort of, quietly reversed its decision to allow, you know, withdrawals from the $6 billion that was freed up from the prisoner swap. But after that decision, the $10 billion — the waiver was extended for the $10 billion. This was money that was payments for electricity in Iraq. So, anyway, given the level of proxy attacks and the availability of these funds, is the U.S. reconsidering these sanctions waivers?”

Kirby: “With the caveat that I am going to have to get back to you on whether or not there’s actually been some sort of procurement request by the Iranians for the humanitarian assistance...none of that money goes to the Iranian regime...[I]t would go to approved vendors that would purchase food, water, medicine, agricultural products, and then ship that directly into Iran for the benefit of the Iranian people[.]”

— Exchanges during the January 4 briefing, 1:33 p.m. Eastern.


Best: Will Biden Actually Cut Spending After Adding Billions to National Debt?

Fox Business’s Edward Lawrence: “[O]n the federal debt. I want to ask you about it. So, I heard you blame the Republicans for the federal debt, but President Biden has been in office for 35 months and over the past three months, the U.S. has added $10 billion per day to the federal debt. So — and that’s not turning around. So, is there a discussion here about cutting spending then?”

Jean-Pierre: “Republican tax cuts are — are responsible for 90 percent — 90 percent of the increase in the debt. Ninety percent. That is something that Republicans are responsible for....[The President’s] put forth legislation, like lowering the deficit by $1 trillion. And that’s part of the lowering prescription drug costs and cracking down on — on the wealthy tax cheats. That’s what he’s done...The President beat Big Pharma....[W]hat [Republicans have] proposed will add $3 trillion to the debt...You’re a data guy. That’s the numbers. That’s what we have seen.”

— Exchange during the January 3 briefing, 3:05 p.m. Eastern.


Dumbest: Biden Apple Polisher Bruce Frets Impeaching Mayorkas Would Make Border Worse

ABC’s Mary Bruce: “Secretary Mayorkas has obviously been up on the Hill negotiating this deal trying to hammer out something on the border. But at the same time, the House is formally beginning impeachment proceedings against him. Do you have any concern that this will complicate a deal, it could hurt negotiations, especially as we’re up against a clock here?”

Jean-Pierre: “So...I kind of addressed this at the top, how baseless it is and how they’re wasting their time on — on impeachment proceedings that make no sense...They’re focusing on something that Americans do not want to see. They want us to deliver on things that matter to them.”

Bruce: “Well, regardless of that, are you concerned that the fact that they are taking this action — even if you disagree with it — that it’s going to make this more difficult that it’s going to complicate all of this?”

— Exchange during the January 3 briefing, 2:52 p.m. Eastern.


Best: Why Force EVs on Americans When There’s No Actual Demand?

Lawrence: “So, Ford today says that in 2023, last year, their EV sales accounted for 3.6 percent of their overall sales. GM sought — says that it only sold half of what their target was for EV sales. Any consideration to moving some of those EV — EV mandates back and let the technology and market preference catch up?

Jean-Pierre: “So...we have seen 51 percent of an increase in EV sales — 51 percent. That’s the numbers...[T]hat’s pretty important. As we talk about climate change, clean energy, that’s important that we’re seeing such a boost in electric vehicles.

Lawrence: “But when you look at the actual numbers, like GM sold 2.6 million cars and trucks in 2023; 76,000 of those were EVs. Ford sold 2 million cars and trucks; 73,000 were EVs. So, clearly about 96 percent of the consumer is saying that they don’t want electric vehicles. So, why not —”

Jean-Pierre: “We saw — we saw a 51 percent increase in electric vehicles. That’s what we’ve seen, Ed. And that’s important to note.”

— January 4 briefing at 2:10 p.m. Eastern.


Best: Jacqui Time Brings the Heat on the Biden Border Crisis 

Heinrich: “A couple of weeks ago, you had said what we’re seeing at the border isn’t unusual. But in the month of December, there were more than 302,000 migrant encounters — the highest total for a single month ever recorded. So, does the administration concede that what we’re seeing now is unusual?”

Jean-Pierre: “What I said was...what we’re seeing at the U.S. is — ebbs and flows in how many migrants arrive at the border. It’s something that happens every year...[A]nd that’s what we’re seeing at this time — and which is caused by misinformation from — and disinformation from smugglers.”

Heinrich: “Well, ICE reported that they only deported 142,000 in all of fiscal year 2023. December had more than double that cross in just a single month. So, how is — how is that really a measurable consequence?”

Jean-Pierre: “Since May 12, DHS has been able to remove and return over 460,000 individuals who — who did not have a legal basis to be here....[W]e believe that the president of Mexico has taken significant enforcement actions, and we are starting to see the results...A lot of it is having diplomacy. A lot of it is enforcement...[Y]ou had House Republicans voting to get rid of 2,000...Border Patrol agents....[W]e’re trying to deal with the issue...[T]here’s negotiations happening on the Senate side, with Republicans and Democrats, to deal with this issue.

— January 3 briefing, 3:08 p.m. Eastern.


Dumbest: Does Biden Have Any New Year’s Resolutions?

CBS’s Weijia Jiang: “[D]oes he have any New Year’s resolutions?”

Jean-Pierre: “I don’t have the President’s New Year’s resolution. I think — what I will say is that the President wants to continue doing the job that he — that he has said that he’s going to do on behalf of the American people.”

— Question during the January 3 briefing, 2:55 p.m. Eastern.