Without Peter Doocy and Kristin Fisher in the White House Briefing Room rotation, it fell to other reporters to offer tough questions to Press Secretary Jen Psaki and the New York Post’s Steven Nelson delivered by getting under Psaki’s skin over Vice President Harris’s travel schedule in light of her supposed role in helping to tame the border crisis.
Nelson noted that she’s “been put in charge of addressing the root causes of the border crisis” and spoke last week with the Guatemalan president, “but she hasn’t visited the border or Central America or spoken to the leaders of El Salvador or Honduras.”
Instead, Nelson pointed out that she’s “visit[ed] a bakery in Chicago” earlier this week, so he wanted to know if she’s “still working on this and can you address the perception that she’s kind of quietly backing off while the Secretary Mayorkas is pursuing some Trump-era policies, such as potentially building new border barriers and potentially prosecuting people who illegally cross multiple times.”
To put a finer point on Harris’s schedule, we would add the fact that she spent last weekend in Brentwood, California which, as Tiana Lowe noted, was a short drive from a convention center where migrant children are being housed.
Psaki insisted that Harris has maintained an important schedule, including the Chicago trip “to talk about COVID and the importance of communities getting the vaccine when it’s available” and that her trip to the bakery was for “a snack.”
As we often see when she’s presented with inconvenient questions, Psaki threw in a personal jab: “I think she’s allowed to do that, but she was there to talk about COVID and play a role as she’s playing a significant role on our efforts to address vaccine hesitancy.”
Psaki then went onto offer a lengthy reply about a statement her office had released about USAID and another snarky reply when Nelson followed up (click “expand”):
PSAKI: Second, I would say that yesterday — and this is actually a statement put out by her team. USAID announced the deployment of a DART team. We only have these in a couple of places in the world. So this is fairly significant to respond to urgent humanitarian needs in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. This is meant to help address the immediate humanitarian needs, whether it’s drought, food insecurity, ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and this is in communities that are still recovering. So that is actually an announcement made by the Vice President’s team earlier today. This is absolutely an issue that she remains committed to, is in the lead on. The Northern Triangle, which I’m sure you’re aware of, but is not the same as the border. They’re all related to each other, but addressing the northern — being responsible and in the lead on the Northern Triangle is working with these countries in the region, addressing the root causes, working them and how we can address issues like long-term food insecurity, drought, the COVID-19 pandemic, hurricanes, et cetera. That’s what she’s focused on. I don’t have an update on when she’ll travel. I’m sure it will be soon.
NELSON: But she’s still working on this issue very much?
PSAKI: Well, they wouldn’t be putting on a statement this morning if she wasn’t, would they?
Two other reporters stood out by daring to Psaki about the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics just days after Real Clear Politics’s Philip Wegmann left Psaki perturbed at the idea that the U.S. would boycott the games over China’s human rights record.
The Associated Press’s Zeke Miller invited Psaki to state whether its “the U.S. policy now that American athletes will participate in those Olympics and is the U.S. government going to encourage American spectators to travel to China to be at those games” and Psaki repeatedly emphasized that U.S. athletes would participate and there were no plans to boycott them.
Another reporter tried at the end of the briefing and cited the U.S. government’s position “that China has committed genocide,” but Psaki maintained that they would work “in coordination with our partners and allies” to communicate “a range of concerns we have with China’s behavior and their actions.”
At the other end of the spectrum was Bloomberg’s Mario Parker, who lobbied the administration to both curtail school sports in light of more young people contracting the virus and take action against people not wearing masks because they’ve left retail workers “increasingly afraid for their lives.”
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was the briefing’s special guest to tout the administration’s so-called infrastructure plan and the Q&A brought about two surprises with NBC’s Kristen Welker citing a Tax Foundation study and PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor wondering if the plan’s tax increases would hurt America’s global economy standing (click “expand”):
WELKER: As you know, some Republicans have looked at this plan and said if you increase the corporate tax rate, overall, in the long run, jobs could be eliminated. They cite one study, the Tax Foundation that says that increasing the corporate tax rate will eliminate 159,000 jobs over the next 10 to 30 years. How do you respond to that criticism that in the long run this plan kills jobs?
WELKER: If it is raised to 28 percent though, that would put the U.S. at one of the highest in the world. Does it have to be 28 percent? Would you go lower? Could you accomplish the same thing if the tax rate weren’t raised to 28 percent?
ALCINDOR: What do you say to a business owner who’s looking at the U.S. and wondering why should I start a company here when I could possibly do so in another country more cheaply? How do we stay competitive as the United States for that business owner’s company?