Thursday wasn’t supposed to feature a White House press briefing due to a presidential visit to Pennsylvania, but President Biden’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis meant Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was thrown before the press corps and, like most stays, she stepped on plenty of rakes.
Over the course of the briefing, she failed to answer and scoffed at basic questions about how the President contracted the virus, whether she herself is a close contact, and why the administration has kept Biden’s personal physician from reporters. Even worse, reporters of all ideologies asked her questions.
One reporter from the Associated Press had the most innocent question during the briefing, which led to the hits. “Where exactly was the President infected?”
Dr. Ashish Jha (COVID-19 Coordinator) was baffled. “I don’t think we know” before letting Jean-Pierre step up. We meant to step up. In part, this was because Jean-Pierre responded with an extremely poor response. “I don’t think that matters” As “what matters is we prepared for this moment.”
TheGrio’s April Ryan had a question from the left, demanding to know whether there will be “a push to tell people to start wearing the masks indoors, especially as the President now, we see, has COVID.”
The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker was also in this camp as she inquired about “[w]hat precautions did you take for the person who filmed” a short videoBiden updating the White House public from the White House balcony about his positive testing.
Jean-Pierre actually answered this question well, saying the person “wore an N95 mask,” was six feet away from Biden, and that it was safe because it was taped outside.
To get back to the absurd answers The Wall Street Journal’s Catherine Lucey drew out a rather silly response when all she wanted to know was Biden’s testing regiment.
As if she were reading liberal talking points about abortion, Jean-Pierre suggested it was no one’s business to know because it’s private: “[I]t is between — it is between him and his personal doctor on that protocol. He has a regular cadence.”
Surprisingly, CNN’s Jeff Zeleny returned to Jean-Pierre’s response to the AP (click “expand”):
ZELENY: Karine, if I could ask you, you said it doesn’t matter where he got it. How can it matter from where it came from if he is using it for contact tracing purposes? The administration is very serious about it. How can it not matter —
JEAN-PIERRE: I think what I —
ZELENY: — where he got it?
JEAN-PIERRE: — what I was trying say is: What’s important now is that he has mild symptoms, is that he is working from — from the Residence on behalf of the American people. That’s our focus. This was what we expected. As Dr. Jha said, you know, when he was — when he joined me at the briefing — in the briefing room not too long ago, he said this is — this is — you know, everyone was — at some point, everyone is going to get COVID. What is important is to make sure that you have — you get the treatment that is — that we have provided for folks, whether it’s get — make sure you get vaccinated, make sure you get boosted and — and then we have Paxlovid that is made available because of this President, so what I am trying to say is: The moment that we’re in right now is what matters as we’re talking about the President and his treatment and how he’s feeling and how he’s continuing to work on behalf of the American public.
Eugene Daniels, Lefty reporter Politico had another basic question that left the press secretary stumped as he wondered why she wasn’t considered a close contact of Biden’s. Jean-Pierre simply dismissed the question, explaining that she only had 15 minutes with Biden.
Moving to more usual suspects, Fox’s Jacqui Heinich called out Jean-Pierre’s evasiveness towards an earlier question as to whether Biden himself was recently deemed a close contact of someone who had a positive test (click “expand”):
JHA: I think you’ve answered this, but feel free.
JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I’ve already answered.
HEINRICH: I don’t think we got an answer.
JEAN-PIERRE: Either — no, I did. I answered it.I told you what our protocols are and we have said —
HEINRICH: But it wasn’t a “yes” or “no.”
JEAN-PIERRE: I — I told you what our protocols were and as we have been committed since the last July, we disclose when the President or one of the — or one of the four principal is a close contact of a staff who tested positive as defined by the CDC. The CDC defines this. Or when he test positive. This is what we do today, and are very transparent about it.
HEINRICH: Are we supposed to assume then, because we didn’t hear from you, that that’s a “no”?
JEAN-PIERRE: That’s not what I’m saying. I am saying that we — when there is a close — when there is a close contact to the President, we actually give that information out and we actually share that individual, who’s a staff member, if they have tested positive. That has been — that has actually been our — our protocol since past — this past July, so a year.
HEINRICH: So we didn’t receive anything like that, so am I to assume that there is — there was nothing that happened, there was no positive case where the President was a close contact?
JEAN-PIERRE: Yes, you’re — you’re safe to assume that because that’s what we have been committed to doing since the last July, which is about a year ago.
Real Clear Politics’s Philip Wegmann circled back to questions from the AP and CNN, making clear that while Biden’s health does come first, it’s still important to investigate whom he might have contract the virus from.
“[T]Right? He travels a lot. He engages with a lot of people,”She said it in part.
National Journal’s George Condon elicited perhaps the most heated answer as he slammed the refusal to make White House physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor available for questions, noting Jean-Pierre and Jha haven’t seen Biden or treated him.
Condon once again refused to make Condon available “would be the least transparency of any White House in 50 years on a presidential illness,” an irked Jean-Pierre declared that she would “wholeheartedly disagree” because they’ve behaved “very differently than, I would argue, than the last administration and I am happy to have that conversation with you.”
You can click here to see the pertinent transcript from the briefing of March 21 (including some great questions on masks or the presidential succession)