Bountiful Briefing: Journos Urge Dems to Be ‘Ruthless,’ Psaki Mocks ‘Conservative Twitter’

With a blanket of snow covering much of the northeast, Monday’s White House press briefing served as a warm blanket for Democrats and comfort food to the Biden team, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki taking a shot at “conservative Twitter,” reporters urging them not to compromise with and be “ruthless” toward Republicans, and one of them wondering whether they’ve had an “easier” time with former President Trump banned from Twitter.

Psaki concluded her opening statement with what she thought was a clever take on her ingrained habit of telling reporters she’ll “circle back” with answers to their questions, but what she actually did was prove conservatives live rent-free in her head.

 

 

“And last thing I just want to do before we get to your questions: I’m often not going to circle back. I hate to disappoint conservative Twitter but I’m going to circle back on a number of things as we often do directly,” Psaki said before answering questions about FEMA funding and the additional fencing around the White House.

NBC’s Geoff Bennett was the second reporter called on and he offered a slew of questions on behalf of his beloved fellow progressives, first citing President Biden’s first face-to-face meeting slated for late Monday with Senate Republicans to wonder whether the invited group’s stimulus proposal of $600 billion should be viewed “as a serious attempt to compromise on their part.”

Bennett followed up by wondering whether Democrats will receive the same opportunity to meet in-person with the President, but since Psaki wouldn’t commit to anything other than there will be “many Democrats” who will visit in the future, CBS’s Ed O’Keefe jumped in (click “expand”):

O’KEEFE: Asking that again in a slightly different way, there are Democrats who see that the first meeting the President is having face-to-face with lawmakers is with Republicans and not Democrats. Is — why is the White House doing that? 

PSAKI: Are there any specific Democrats you want to call up? 

O’KEEFE: No, but it’s been talked about. There’s concern that —

PSAKI: Just people talking about it in the hallways? 

O’KEEFE: — yeah, sure. 

PSAKI: I can assure you that Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer have been in very close touch with the President directly and members of the senior team. He has been in touch, but also members of our senior team have been in touch with Democrats across the political spectrum, and that will continue. And there will definitely be Democrats who will be part of the conversations here in the White House. 

As for Bennett, he was granted a second round of questions a little later and urged Democrats to be “ruthless” and not compromise: “[T]he Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell back in 2017 famously said, winners make policy, losers go home. Given that, why shouldn’t Democrats, why shouldn’t President Biden be as tactfully ruthless as Republicans have been in — in pushing priorities that he champions?”

Bennett then continued to polish Psaki’s apple with a “circle back” reference, asking if could “circle back, to use that phrase, to a question I asked during the transition” about whether Trump should still have access to U.S. intelligence briefings, despite “concerns among some Democrats that he’ll either misuse or leverage it to enrich himself.”

Psaki jokingly replied: “Anybody can steal it. Just means you have to get back.”

Guaranteed a seat for each briefing due to it being one of three news wires, Reuters sent Jarrett Renshaw on Monday and his round two questions were softballs on their level of relief that they can push out their agenda without pesky Trump chiming in on Twitter (click “expand”):

RENSHAW: As you know, former President Trump has been barred from a lot of social media sites. I’m curious whether you think his absence has made your job any easier or the White House’s job any easier as it goes forward on these COVID negotiations? 

PSAKI: In what way? 

RENSHAW: Oh, he created a lot of noise, right? He would have certain gravitational pull with Republicans who may be more inclined to take a harder position. I wonder if that’s anything you guys have thought about or — or kind of considered? 

PSAKI: This may be hard to believe. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about or thinking about President Trump here. Former President Trump, to be very clear. I think that’s a question probably more appropriate for Republican members who are looking for ways to support a bipartisan package and whether that gives them space, but I can’t say we miss him on Twitter. 

RENSHAW: Does President Biden support the continuing ban of — of President Trump on those sites? 

PSAKI: I think that’s a decision made by Twitter. We’ve — we’ve certainly spoken to and he’s certainly spoken to the need for social media platforms to continue to take steps to reduce hate speech, but we don’t have more for you on it than that. 

In two other exchanges of note, Bloomberg’s Jordan Fabian was able to finally conjure up a real answer from Psaki on the GameStop controversy and Wall Street Journal’s Tarini Parti hammered home the refusal of the Chicago Teachers Union to return to in-person learning despite numerous demands being met by the city.

To see those exchanges, check those out as part of the transcript at the bottom of the page.

And for those that might have been curious, the Fox News Channel was not a part of the briefing room rotation, so that meant no Kevin Corke, Peter Doocy, Kristin Fisher, or even Mark Meredith to question Psaki. We’ll have to see what tomorrow brings.

To see the relevant transcript from February 1’s briefing, click “expand.”

White House Press Briefing
February 1, 2020
12:35 p.m. Eastern

JEN PSAKI: And last thing I just want to do before we get to your questions: I’m often note going to circle back. I hate to disappoint conservative Twitter but I’m going to circle back on a number of things as we often do directly. But Hurricane Maria funds which was a question asked last week, the President has made clear — the status of them, I should say — that it’s a priority for his administration to release this funding. We are working to do so, so that is in process. On the White House fence, which a couple people asked about, I believe it was on Friday, our goal, the President and the Vice President’s goal, is for the secret service to adjust the perimeter as soon as it makes sense from an overall security standpoint. So, we are working closely with them on that, and they, of course, would be in the lead on that front and the last piece I just want to give a quick update on, there is a question of the White House’s support for troops. Of course, we support the whole of government pandemic response that is catering to the unique issues and needs of our states. FEMA is working in strong partnership with states to get a handle on their needs and accordingly have requested the significant manpower in some cases for this unprecedented pandemic response effort. I expect we’ll have more on this as the days continue this week on how they will be utilized.

(….)

12:39 p.m. Eastern

GEOFF BENNETT: You mentioned that President Biden’s proposed COVID relief package is designed to be commensurate with the crises. This group of ten Senate Republicans, what they’re offering, as you know, is more than a third less. The top line number, the 600 billion is more than a third less of the 1.9 trillion that President Biden says he wants. Given that, do you see that as a serious attempt to compromise on their part? 

PSAKI: Well, I appreciate the opportunity to give more comment on their proposal. I think it’s — they put their ideas forward. That’s how the President sees it. He felt it was, you know, an effort to engage and engage on a bipartisan basis, and that’s why he invited them to the White House today. But his view is that the size of the package needs to be commensurate with the crises we’re facing, the dual crises we’re facing, hence why he proposed a package that’s $1.9 trillion. 

BENNETT: Does the President plan to invite Democrats into the Oval to have these similar conversations? 

PSAKI: Well, I can promise you, we’re less than two weeks in, there will be many Democrats in the Oval Office. And I’m sure this is just part of our ongoing effort to engage directly. Go ahead

ED O’KEEFE: Asking that again in a slightly different way, there are Democrats who see that the first meeting the President is having face-to-face with lawmakers is with Republicans and not Democrats. Is — why is the White House doing that? 

PSAKI: Are there any specific Democrats you want to call up? 

O’KEEFE: No, but it’s been talked about. There’s concern that —

PSAKI: Just people talking about it in the hallways? 

O’KEEFE: — yeah, sure. 

PSAKI: I can assure you that Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer have been in very close touch with the President directly and members of the senior team. He has been in touch, but also members of our senior team have been in touch with Democrats across the political spectrum, and that will continue. And there will definitely be Democrats who will be part of the conversations here in the White House. 

O’KEEFE: Two others on that. You said in your statement the scale of what must be done is large. Let bottomline it — is $600 billion considered large by the White House? 

PSAKI: I think our statement made clear that the President believes the risk is not going too small, but going — going not big enough and that his view is that the size of the package needs to be commensurate with the crises we’re facing. That’s why he proposed 1.9 trillion. There is obviously a big gap between 600 billion and 1.9 trillion, I don’t believe any of us are mathematicians, otherwise we wouldn’t be here, but we can all state that clearly and so, clearly, he thinks the package size needs to be closer what he proposed than smaller.

(….)

12:43 p.m. Eastern

MARY BRUCE: On Friday we heard the President come out and say he wants to pass this bill with support from Republicans if we can get it, it has to pass, with no ifs, ands or buts. That “if we can get it” part, should we take that as a sign that the President recognizes he may have to abandon his hope of bipartisanship? 

(….)

12:45 p.m. Eastern

JORDAN FABIAN: I want to ask you about GameStop. Some lawmakers have proposed legislative reforms like restrictions on short selling and financial transaction taxes, the latter of which President Biden supported during the 2020 campaign. So, I want to ask you now if the White House would support actions like those to address the situation. 

PSAKI: Well, as we’ve noted in here several times before, but I just want to reiterate. Obviously, this is under purview of the FCC in terms of their review and monitoring, But there is an important set of policy issues as a result of market volatility in recent days and we think congressional attention to these issues is appropriate and would welcome working with Congress moving forward as we dig into these further policy issues. But I don’t have anything further to predict for you other than we certainly welcome the opportunity to work with members who have proposed ideas. 

FABIAN: Has there been any direct engagement with those members so far on what they’ve proposed? 

PSAKI: I don’t have anything to read out for you on that front. Obviously, we’re engaged at a variety of levels every day with a range of offices on a number of issues, so — but I don’t have anything more for you on that.

FABIAN: And lastly, one more on this, sorry: So there are no confirmed members right now on the Financial Oversight Council. And is it the White House’s view that that lack of officials in place is affecting your administration’s approach to this situation? 

PSAKI: Well, again, the FCC is looking carefully at recent activities, and if they’re consistent with investor protection in fair and efficient markets, that’s where we think the purview is and the focus is at this point in time.

(….)

12:53 p.m. Eastern

TARINI PARTI: On school reopening, the Democratic mayor of Chicago has said it’s safe to reopen schools. They’ve invested 100 million into safety measures, but the teachers there remain on the verge of striking. Does the white House agree with the mayor if enough funding has taken place and safety measures have been taken that children should return to schools? 

PSAKI: Well, let me first say that the President has a lot of respect for Mayor Lightfoot and he has been a strong ally to teachers his entire career. Of course, as you know, Dr. Biden, his wife, is a teacher, so even in his home. He trusts the mayor and the unions to work this out. They’re both prioritizing the right things, which is ensuring the health and safety of students and teachers and working to make sure that children in Chicago are getting the education they deserve. So, he is hopeful. We’re hopeful they can reach common ground as soon as possible.

PARTI: But does the White House have a role to play, though, in cities like Chicago and other cities are meeting in terms of mediating these negotiations and getting kids back to school? 

PSAKI: We certainly remain in touch with a range of parties, but again, we hope that they can come to common ground soon.

(….)

1:02 p.m. Eastern

BENNETT: Just a follow-up to Yamiche’s great question about reconciliation and it’s that the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell back in 2017 famously said, winners make policy, losers go home. Given that, why shouldn’t Democrats, why shouldn’t President Biden be as tactfully ruthless as Republicans have been in — in pushing priorities that he champions? 

PSAKI: Well, I think the President has been clear that he’s encouraged by the pace, and rapid pace, I should say, that Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer are moving this package forward at. At the same time, there is time because this — this process can take a bit to make changes as needed. And he wants to be part of those conversations, hence, he invited Republicans to do that here today. I can’t speak to — to Senator McConnell’s role or commitment or point of view or anything. He’s certainly not asking me to be his spokesperson, Lord knows, but, you know that President Biden ran on a commitment, of course, of unifying the country but also of hearing from all sides and giving — having engaging and having an opportunity to have discussions and today is part of doing that. 

BENNETT: And quickly, can I circle back, to use that phrase, to a question I asked during the transition. 

PSAKI: Anybody can steal it. Just means you have to get back.

BENNETT: So I’ll circle back to this: has the White House made a determination about whether it will continue to extend the privilege briefings to former President Trump, given the concerns among some Democrats that he’ll either misuse or leverage it to enrich himself? 

PSAKI: This is a good question. I’ve raised it with our intelligence — or with our national security team, I should. It’s something, obviously, that’s under review. But there was not a conclusion the last I asked him about it, but I’m happy to follow up on it and see if there’s more to share.

(….)

1:06 p.m. Eastern

JARRETT RENSHAW: As you know, former President Trump has been barred from a lot of social media sites. I’m curious whether you think his absence has made your job any easier or the White House’s job any easier as it goes forward on these COVID negotiations? 

PSAKI: In what way? 

RENSHAW: Oh, he created a lot of noise, right? He would have certain gravitational pull with Republicans who may be more inclined to take a harder position. I wonder if that’s anything you guys have thought about or — or kind of considered? 

PSAKI: This may be hard to believe. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about or thinking about President Trump here. Former president trump, to be very clear. I think that’s a question probably more appropriate for Republican members who are looking for ways to support a bipartisan package and whether that gives them space, but I can’t say we miss him on Twitter. 

RENSHAW: Does President Biden support the continuing ban of — of President Trump on those sites? 

PSAKI: I think that’s a decision made by Twitter. We’ve — we’ve certainly spoken to and he’s certainly spoken to the need for social media platforms to continue to take steps to reduce hate speech, but we don’t have more for you on it than that. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Is there a particular way the President is trying to keep in touch with basic everyday Americans such as getting a sampling of letters that are sent to him, as some past presidents have done, especially as it relates to the pandemic? 

PSAKI: That’s such a good question. You know, he is looking to remain engaged. It’s hard when we haven’t done any travel yet, and we’re certainly hoping to do that at some point in time, to engage with Americans more directly. I don’t have anything specific. He does receive, of course, letters. It takes some time for them to come in, as you know, they kind of go through a process once they are — arrive at the White House. That’s something he’s eager to have access to. Obviously, there’s also, you know, many ways to provide feedback or input to the White House which he’s eager to receive, too, but let me see if I can get more detail for you on that. 

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