Not Very Good: Snarky Psaki Mocks Space Force Question, Snaps at Reporters

Tuesday’s White House press briefing was perhaps Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s most combative one yet, facing tough questions on China, coronavirus relief, illegal immigration, Israel, and schools but also softballs on topics like COVID and impeachment.

And on an equally important note, not a single reporter stepped up and asked Psaki about the embarrassing Daily Beast report that her team had been probing reporters to pre-screen their questions ahead of briefings. Talk about a case of collusion.

 

 

It was the Space Force question that raised the most eyebrows as Bloomberg’s Josh Wingrove simply wanted to know if President Biden “has made a decision on keeping or keeping the scope of the Space Force.”

Psaki interjected and chuckled, making a reference to question about Air Force One from the inaugural briefing: “Wow, Space Force. It’s the plane of today.”

Wingrove pushed back that this matters and Psaki further beclowned herself: “It is an interesting question. I’m happy to check with our Space Force point of contact. I’m not sure who that is and find out and see if we have any update on that.”

Hours later, Psaki tweeted in a piece of damage control that the administration “look[s] forward to the continuing work of Space Force.”

When he received a second round of questions towards the end of the briefing, Wingrove made sure not to elicit the same response, asking Psaki about vaccine “equity” and whether the United States’s vaccine orders would prevent “less wealthy countries” from vaccinating their populations.

Instead of laughing off a question, Psaki expressed her disgust with McClatchy’s Anita Kumar (who shouldn’t be confused with, say, Peter Doocy or Emerald Robinson) for calling out the administration’s lack of contact with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Psaki gave a non-answer to Kumar’s question about whether Biden has spoken with Xi and, if not, when they would, so Kumar followed up: “That sounds a lot like the strategy is not to talk to him at this time because you’re talking about speaking to allies and — and making other calls first. Is — have they requested a call?”

Clearly irked, Psaki snapped. Here was part of her answer: “I don’t have anything more for you. I think — I don’t appreciate the, like, putting words in my mouth. That wasn’t what my effort was. What I was conveying is our strategy here from the United States which is to work with our partners and allies and determine what the right time is.”

A few moments later, TVA’s Richard Latendresse wondered why Biden has yet to speak with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu given Israel’s position as a close U.S. ally.

Psaki deflected, chalking it up to the fact that the administration hasn’t been around for even two weeks even though Biden “would certainly love to spend more times speaking to foreign leaders” as “[h]is first love is foreign policy.”

Representing CNN, senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly made his Briefing Room debut and held his own, reminding CNN (and the rest of us) that a CNN journalist can be fair and firm without showing condescension, hatred, and smugness toward their opponents.

Mattingly asked about the $15/hour minimum wage being included in the $1.9 trillion COVID package, the administration calling for more money to schools even though at least $60 billion hadn’t been spent yet, and heads up on vaccines. As you’ll see, Psaki deployed sarcasm (click “expand”):

MATTINGLY: Senator Manchin today saying he was going to vote for the budget proposal but made clear that his final vote was not — needs to be on a proposal that’s very targeted. He’s opposed to the $15 minute minimum wage. Is the $15 minimum wage a must have for this White House in the final COVID package? 

PSAKI; Well, Phil, I should have also brought you up here to just talk about how bill becomes a law cause I think you know.

MATTINGLY: Well, I have a 17-part reconciliation instructions question.

PSAKI: Oh, good. I can’t wait. We’ll all tune in for it. You know, Phil, I think there are a lot of points of view as should not be a surprise to anyone of different members of Congress. We respect all of them. We’re happy to hear them, hence the President met with ten Republican senators last night, but we’re not going to negotiate from here or, frankly, in public about what is going to be in and out of the package. We want that to work through the legislative practice — process, sorry, that is ongoing now. 

MATTINGLY: And on the meeting with the Republican senators, you said the word reiterate I think in a statement last night had the word reiterate three separate times. It’s very clear that you —

PSAKI: You like that word? It’s a good, solid word. 

MATTINGLY: — but it underscores that your guys’ position is firm and so, I guess my question is talking about staff talks on technical details, is that basically the ball game right now in terms of the bipartisan talks? Like, they can improve things on the technical side, there are pieces if they want amendments, but broadly this is what it is and it’s moving? 

(….)

MATTINGLY: Last one, on COVID, you guys made very clear $130 billion is crucial for reopening schools. The — I think there’s something along the lines of $60 billion to $65 billion in past proposals that have been obligated but is mostly unspent right now on the public school front. What are you guys doing to ensure that gets out the door, given the priority it is in your package?

(….)

MATTINGLY: Another vaccine question, you guys have — you mentioned you ramped up 16 percent distribution last week and five percent, obviously, 70 million doses going out to the pharmacies as well. Jeff was talking about how this is a ramp-up of Moderna and Pfizer. What kind of visibility are you getting into what’s coming? Like, did you know the 15 percent or 16 percent last week was coming? Did you know the five — how long in advance did you know? 

(….)

MATTINGLY: On something like today, how many days ago did you know, okay, on Tuesday we can announce that on February 11th. we’ve got a million doses going out to pharmacies? What’s the turnaround on that?

Fox News Channel didn’t have a representative as part of the seating rotation, but the Fox Business Network’s Blake Burman was there and, as part of his lone turn, pressed Psaki on the COVID package, stimulus checks, and whether a positive jobs report would alter the White House’s price tag (click “expand”):

BURMAN: On the issue of the minimum wage, you had said that the President believes that a nurse and teacher, a couple who makes $120,000 should get a check, so that’s clearly a “red line” — I don’t know if you want to describe it as that — something the President wants. Let me ask you about — 

PSAKI: Red line is an old term. We’re not going to use it again. 

BURMAN: — okay, that’s fine. But when you were asked about the minimum wage, you said you’re not going to negotiate from here and you want to work through that. So it seems as if the President might be open to dropping the minimum wage from the bill? Is that a fair assessment?

(….)

BURMAN: And on the issue of Senator Manchin and his statement today, you talked about how he would like to see something targeted. He said let me be clear and those are the words I shared with President Biden, our focus must be targeted on the COVID-19 crisis and Americans who have been most affected by the pandemic, his quote. Does the President believe $1.9 trillion is a targeted package? 

(….)

BURMAN: And lastly, there’s going to be a jobs report on Friday, depending on how that jobs report looks, might that change how the White House views what needs to be in the package or not? Or do you kind of believe this is the best framework now and that’s what you’re going with?

And before we go, it wouldn’t be fair to leave out this asinine query from ABC senior White House correspondent Mary Bruce expressing concern that the mere vocalization of arguments from former President Trump’s legal team at the Senate trial could trigger more violence:

If I ask a question on impeachment, the impeachment managers have now laid out their case. Trump’s team is leaving open the door, it seems, to arguing election fraud in the trial, to — to repeating the fall claims that somehow Trump won the election, those same claims that fueled the riot. Is this administration concerned that the former President’s defense could incite further violence?

To see the relevant briefing transcript from February 2, click “expand.”

White House Press Briefing
February 2, 2021
2:01 p.m. Eastern

MARY BRUCE: If I ask a question on impeachment, the impeachment managers have now laid out their case. Trump’s team is leaving open the door, it seems, to arguing election fraud in the trial, to — to repeating the fall claims that somehow Trump won the election, those same claims that fueled the riot. Is this administration concerned that the former President’s defense could incite further violence?

(….)

2:09 p.m. Eastern

JOSH WINGROVE: And if I may, may I ask whether the President has made a decision on keeping or keeping the scope of the Space Force?

JEN PSAKI: Wow, space force. It’s the plane of today. 

WINGROVE: No, it’s a entire branch.

PSAKI: It is an interesting question. I’m happy to check with our Space Force point of contact. I’m not sure who that is and find out and see if we have any update on that. Go ahead. 

PHIL MATTINGLY: Jen, a couple on COVID relief. Senator Manchin today saying he was going to vote for the budget proposal but made clear that his final vote was not — needs to be on a proposal that’s very targeted. He’s opposed to the $15 minute minimum wage. Is the $15 minimum wage a must have for this White House in the final COVID package? 

PSAKI; Well, Phil, I should have also brought you up here to just talk about how bill becomes a law cause I think you know.

MATTINGLY: Well, I have a 17-part reconciliation instructions question.

PSAKI: Oh, good. I can’t wait. We’ll all tune in for it. You know, Phil, I think there are a lot of points of view as should not be a surprise to anyone of different members of Congress. We respect all of them. We’re happy to hear them, hence the President met with ten Republican senators last night, but we’re not going to negotiate from here or, frankly, in public about what is going to be in and out of the package. We want that to work through the legislative practice — process, sorry, that is ongoing now. 

MATTINGLY: And on the meeting with the Republican senators, you said the word reiterate I think in a statement last night had the word reiterate three separate times. It’s very clear that you —

PSAKI: You like that word? It’s a good, solid word. 

MATTINGLY: — but it underscores that your guys’ position is firm and so, I guess my question is talking about staff talks on technical details, is that basically the ball game right now in terms of the bipartisan talks? Like, they can improve things on the technical side, there are pieces if they want amendments, but broadly this is what it is and it’s moving? 

(….)

2:12 p.m. Eastern

MATTINGLY: Last one, on COVID, you guys made very clear $130 billion is crucial for reopening schools. The — I think there’s something along the lines of $60 billion to $65 billion in past proposals that have been obligated but is mostly unspent right now on the public school front. What are you guys doing to ensure that gets out the door, given the priority it is in your package?

PSAKI: Sure, well, my understanding from talking to our economic team is the funding that was in the $900 billion package, I think — if that’s what you’re referring to, will be spent in the next couple of weeks. And so, what we’re trying to look ahead to is what are the needs as we’re looking to public schools across the country that many of them need funding, many of them need PPE, many of them need testing, many of them need, you know, better ventilation in their schools to ensure we have adequate funding needed to open the majority of schools within 100 days, which remains the President’s goal.

(….)

2:19 p.m. Eastern

ANITA KUMAR: We haven’t heard the Preisdent — we haven’t seen a readout of the president talking to President Xi and I wonder if that was scheduled or when it might be? It’s been a couple weeks.

PSAKI: Less than two weeks actually. It may seem longer to you. You know, the — our — our — our approach to China, and our approach to our relationship in China with China, you know, is strategic, obviously and we are working to ensure that we are approaching that relationship from a position of strength. And that includes engagement with our allies and partners. A lot of those calls have happened over the last ten weeks — ten weeks? Ten days. That was a little freudian there, ten weeks. Ten days. They will continue. And also engagements with Democrats and Republicans in Congress about the path forward. I don’t have any call to predict for you at this point in time. Obviously with Secretary of State Tony Blinken now confirmed, there are additional layers to engage with the Chinese, but we’ll let you know when a call is — is happening and certainly have a readout for all of you as well. 

KUMAR: That sounds a lot like the strategy is not to talk to him at this time because you’re talking about speaking to allies and — and making other calls first. Is — have they requested a call? 

PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you. I think — I don’t appreciate the, like, putting words in my mouth. That wasn’t what my effort was. What I was conveying is our strategy here from the United States which is to work with our partners and allies and determine what the right time is. Of course, the relationship with China is going to be multilayered. We’ll deal with climate. We’ll deal with the economy. We’ll deal with security and that is, of course, a priority to President Biden. He’s spoken about it during the transition. He’s spoken about it. Obviously, he’s had engagements with his national security teams about a range of issue, including China. We’ve been here less than two weeks and when we have a call to readout, I’m make sure you know.

(….)

2:22 p.m. Eastern

BLAKE BURMAN: On the issue of the minimum wage, you had said that the President believes that a nurse and teacher, a couple who makes $120,000 should get a check, so that’s clearly a “red line” — I don’t know if you want to describe it as that — something the President wants. Let me ask you about — 

PSAKI: Red line is an old term. We’re not going to use it again. 

BURMAN: — okay, that’s fine. But when you were asked about the minimum wage, you said you’re not going to negotiate from here and you want to work through that. So it seems as if the President might be open to dropping the minimum wage from the bill? Is that a fair assessment?

(….)

2:23 p.m. Eastern

BURMAN: And on the issue of Senator Manchin and his statement today, you talked about how he would like to see something targeted. He said let me be clear and those are the words I shared with President Biden, our focus must be targeted on the COVID-19 crisis and Americans who have been most affected by the pandemic, his quote. Does the President believe $1.9 trillion is a targeted package? 

(….)

2:24 p.m. Eastern

BURMAN: And lastly, there’s going to be a jobs report on Friday, depending on how that jobs report looks, might that change how the White House views what needs to be in the package or not? Or do you kind of believe this is the best framework now and that’s what you’re going with? 

PSAKI; I mean, if there was a jobs report that there were 10 million jobs created, that would be great news. I don’t suspect that will be the outcome of what the job numbers will be. So no, it will not change. As we saw from the CBO numbers, where there — which predicted — projected, I should say, that there would be growth this year, that’s obviously positive. But we’re digging out of a massive hole and the challenge right now is it’s going to be take years to return to the pace of job growth — of economic growth the country needs to be at. So no, I wouldn’t suspect it would change things.

(….)

2:26 p.m. Eastern

RICHARD LATENDRESSE: A followup question to Anita, correct me if I’m wrong, but the President hasn’t spoken yet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’s an ally. Is that surprising? 

PSAKI: I don’t know that it’s surprising less than two weeks into an administration. He hasn’t called every foreign leader yet. He would certainly love to spend more times speaking to foreign leaders. That’s, you know — his first love is foreign policy. But I expect he will continue to have additional engagements in the weeks ahead. And obviously, we have a long and abiding relationship with Israel, important security relationship. I’m sure they will discuss that and a range of issues when they do connect.

(….)

2:28 p.m. Eastern

WINGROVE: The announcement today with respect to the vaccine, equity is a big part of that.

PSAKI: Yes.

WINGROVE: You’ve been rolling with that previously. What extent is international equity factoring in? Right now, the orders you have add up — if they all come through, which is, admittedly a big — quite a bit more than the U.S. would need? What would you do with all of that? And are you concerned that you might be boxing out less wealthy countries from getting earlier access to the vaccine? 

[PSAKI ANSWER]

WINGROVE: If that happens, will you distribute them to allies first on the needs basis? 

(….)

2:29 p.m. Eastern

MATTINGLY: Another vaccine question, you guys have — you mentioned you ramped up 16 percent distribution last week —

PSAKI: Yeah.

MATTINGLY: — and five percent, obviously, 70 million doses going out to the pharmacies as well. Jeff was talking about how this is a ramp-up of Moderna and Pfizer. What kind of visibility are you getting into what’s coming? Like, did you know the 15 percent or 16 percent last week was coming? Did you know the five — how long in advance did you know? 

PSAKI: Did we know we can plan to announce the new —

MATTINGLY: Announce things and kick them into gear? 

PSAKI: Yeah, we’re working on trying to be able to be have that ability and that assessment. As governors I’m sure will tell you or have told many of you, that’s also what they’re looking on, right — looking at. So, we’re trying to get to a place where we know what’s coming, so governors and local officials know what’s coming to them and they can assess where to distribute it in their states. You know, the process is at the early stages but our goal is certainly to have an understanding of when we will be able to ramp up distribution to states. 

MATTINGLY: On something like today, how many days ago did you know, okay, on Tuesday we can announce that on February 11th. we’ve got a million doses going out to pharmacies? What’s the turnaround on that?

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