Womp, Womp: Psaki Suffers Freudian Slip on the Border, Gets Grilled About Masks

With no one from Fox News in the White House Briefing Room, it fell to others on Thursday to pick up the slack. Along the way, Press Secretary Jen Psaki engaged in quite the Freudian slip that there was indeed a “crisis on the border,” Real Clear Politics’ Philip Wegmann asked tough questions on masks and religious freedom, and one reporter grossly tied attacks on Asian Americans to criticizing communist China.

CBS White House correspondent Ed O’Keefe had asked Psaki about whether the U.S. sending AstraZenca vaccines to Mexico had any strings attached in terms of border assistance when Psaki replied that there weren’t any preconditions of vaccines in exchange for help “in dealing with the crisis on the border.”

 

 

Psaki’s slip went unaddressed for almost 15 minutes until Wegmann took notice: “When you were talking a moment about how to go about diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Mexico, you said ‘crisis on the border.’”

Wegmann asked if that “reflect[ed] any change in the administration’s view of things,” but Psaki stated three times in a row that it didn’t and made clear their definition for the border crisis would instead be called a challenge.

With that cleared up, Wegmann pressed Psaki on the Biden administration (and other health experts, for that matter) has said Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 still need to wear masks (click “expand”):

WEGMANN: On Monday, the President said, it’s important to get the vaccine and then “even after that, until everyone is vaccinated, to wear this mask.” Was he speaking generally or does he believe that we should all be wearing masks until everyone is, in fact, vaccinated? 

PSAKI: Well, I think what he’s reflecting is the guidance from our health experts that even if you’re vaccinated, I am vaccinated, I still wear a mask because there hasn’t been conclusive studies yet on the transferability of the — the pandemic or from COVID from those who have been vaccinated and he continues to be the advice of health and medical experts to continue to wear masks. 

WEGMANN: Right, but every American? Is that the standard until every American has been vaccinated, or was he speaking generally?

PSAKI: I think he’s speaking generally about the need to still observe measures like social distancing and wearing of masks, so that even when you’re vaccinated, you’re keeping your neighbors, your friends, your family members safe.

One would think that argument would harm the argument for convincing skeptical Americans to get vaccinated, but we here at NewsBusters aren’t the supposedly esteemed scientists.

After a question about travel restrictions for “unmarried, binational couples,” Wegmann stumped Psaki with this hardball about the Equality Act, its threat to religious liberty, and Biden’s 1993 vote for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: 

[T]he Equality Act, as it’s currently written, would eliminate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense for religious organizations against discrimination claims. Given the President Biden voted in favor of RFRA, does he support it being abolished now? 

Psaki was caught flat-footed and had to retreat to saying she’d have to “check on the specific components of the package…for you after the briefing.”

Right after Wegmann, the next reporter had a number of questions that included this insane take that sought to tie criticism of and standing up to the communist Chinese regime to attacks on Asian Americans. Psaki doubled down on her belief that former President Trump was to blame, but she otherwise made the correct point of rejecting this idea that one leads to the other (click “expand”):

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Okay, an Asian-American question — on the unfortunate Atlanta shooting. We already see the half-staff outside. Yesterday, you blamed the prior administration about this, which some people agree, but as Axios reports: “United States rivalry with China had already created unease about Chinese American and Asian-Americans,” and actual states: “We are going to see a huge jump in hate crimes against Asian Americans this year.” So it seems to be that President Biden is in this Catch 22. On one hand, he is trying to alleviate the hate crimes against Asians and Asian-Americans. On the other hand, he’s — kind of escalates the tension. How can he really alleviate this situation?

PSAKI: I would just refute the notion of that question. I would say that, yesterday, I was asked, which was a good question if we thought that the former President’s rhetoric had contributed to the — actions or the — the discrimination against Asian Americans, and I said, we do because rhetoric certainly from the — the — the massive megaphone you have from the White House is something that is heard across the country and it’s important to then be thoughtful about the words you used and how you convey opposition to discrimination of any kind. That was the answer — the question I was answering. The President is and the Vice President are meeting with leaders of the Asian American community tomorrow. They — the President raised the rhetoric — the — his concerns about rhetoric, about attacks, about threats against the Asian American community in the country during his prime time address. He’s signed an executive order. He’s asked members of his administration to listen, hear, think about policy solutions. I would say he’s — his effort is to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, so I would just dispute your — your question.

Earth to the news media: Just because you want something to be the case doesn’t make it true.

To see the relevant transcript from March 18’s briefing, “click expand.”

White House Press Briefing
March 18, 2021
1:07 p.m. Eastern

ED O’KEEFE: So, if I’m hearing you, the vaccine was given. Were there expectations set with the Mexicans that they help deal with the situation on the border?

JEN PSAKI: There — there have — 

[INAUDIBLE O’KEEFE]

PSAKI: — there — there have been expectations set outside of — unrelated to any vaccine doses or request for them that they would be partners in dealing with the crisis on the border and there have been requests — unrelated — that — they — for doses of these vaccines. Every relationship has multiple layers of conversations that are happening at the same time.

O’KEEFE: So we shouldn’t rule out — or United States isn’t ruling out using our vaccine stockpile in terms of [INAUDIBLE] —

PSAKI: I’m actually — I’m actually trying to convey that with every country there’s rarely just one issue you’re discussing with any country at one time, right? Certainly, That’s not the case with Mexico. It’s not the case with any country around the world, and so, I wouldn’t read into it more than our ability to provide — to lend vaccine doses of a vaccine that we have some available supply on to a neighboring country where there is a lot of traffic that goes back and forth between the countries.

(….)

1:21 p.m. Eastern

PHILIP WEGMANN: When you were talking a moment about how to go about diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Mexico, you said “crisis on the border.” Is — is that — was that a —

PSAKI: Challenges on the border.

WEGMANN: — okay. But so — that’s not — that doesn’t reflect any change —

PSAKI: Nope.

WEGMANN: — in the administration’s view of things?

PSAKI: Nope.

WEGMANN: Ah, okay. Well, another quick question then. On Monday, the President said, it’s important to get the vaccine and then “even after that, until everyone is vaccinated, to wear this mask.” Was he speaking generally or does he believe that we should all be wearing masks until everyone is, in fact, vaccinated? 

PSAKI: Well, I think what he’s reflecting is the guidance from our health experts that even if you’re vaccinated, I am vaccinated, I still wear a mask because there hasn’t been conclusive studies yet on the transferability of the — the pandemic or from COVID from those who have been vaccinated and he continues to be the advice of health and medical experts to continue to wear masks. 

WEGMANN: Right, but every American? Is that the standard until every American has been vaccinated, or was he speaking generally?

PSAKI: I think he’s speaking generally about the need to still observe measures like social distancing and wearing of masks, so that even when you’re vaccinated, you’re keeping your neighbors, your friends, your family members safe.

WEGMANN: Okay and then back in January, you noted that the administration was reviewing how unmarried couples were handled under travel restrictions. 

PSAKI: Mmhmm

WEGMANN: Have there been any developments on those restrictions? I know that there’s a lot on the administration’s plate —

PSAKI: Yeah.

WEGMANN: — but in how unmarried, binational couples are treated?

PSAKI: I don’t have any update for you. The review’s on-going.

WEGMANN: Can I ask you one more question? 

PSAKI: Sure.

WEGMANN: Thank you. You’re very generous. 

WEGMANN: Um, the Equality Act, as it’s currently written, would eliminate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense for religious organizations against discrimination claims. Given the President Biden voted in favor of RFRA, does he support it being abolished now? 

PSAKI: I would have to check on the specific components of the package. I’m happy to — I’m happy to do that for you after the briefing.

(….)

1:24 p.m. Eastern

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Okay, an Asian-American question —

PSAKI: Okay.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: — on the unfortunate Atlanta shooting. We already see the half-staff outside. Yesterday, you blamed the prior administration about this, which some people agree, but as Axios reports: “United States rivalry with China had already created unease about Chinese American and Asian-Americans,” and actual states: “We are going to see a huge jump in hate crimes against Asian Americans this year.” So it seems to be that President Biden is in this Catch 22. On one hand, he is trying to alleviate the hate crimes against Asians and Asian-Americans. On the other hand, he’s — kind of escalates the tension. How can he really alleviate this situation?

PSAKI: I would just refute the notion of that question. I would say that, yesterday, I was asked, which was a good question if we thought that the former President’s rhetoric had contributed to the — actions or the — the discrimination against Asian Americans, and I said, we do because rhetoric certainly from the — the — the massive megaphone you have from the White House is something that is heard across the country and it’s important to then be thoughtful about the words you used and how you convey opposition to discrimination of any kind. That was the answer — the question I was answering. The President is and the Vice President are meeting with leaders of the Asian American community tomorrow. They — the President raised the rhetoric — the — his concerns about rhetoric, about attacks, about threats against the Asian American community in the country during his prime time address. He’s signed an executive order. He’s asked members of his administration to listen, hear, think about policy solutions. I would say he’s — his effort is to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, so I would just dispute your — your question.

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