The honeymoon between the media and the new White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is over, as she dodged key questions in her second ever briefing.
One reporter asked about the dispute between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate over the filibuster, a procedural feature of the chamber which means 60 votes are needed to pass most major legislation.
As we mentioned earlier, the Republicans want a guarantee that the Democrats will not scrap the filibuster or change the rules around it. The Democrats don’t want to give that guarantee, and some in the party want to get rid of the filibuster entirely.
“The work of the Senate is being held up by this dispute over the filibuster. Where does President Biden come down on that? Does he think that there should not be a filibuster so that the Senate can move forward with its work?” the reporter asked Ms Psaki.
“Well, the President spoke yesterday, as you all saw, about ‘the spirit of bipartisanship to confront the four crises facing us,’” she replied, reading from Joe Biden’s inauguration speech.
“You’ve already seen him work with Republicans and Democrats, and work towards a bipartisan approach towards passing packages that will address the crises we’re facing. And that certainly is his priority and his preference.”
A dodge, then.
The next reporter pressed her further, not on the filibuster specifically, but on Mr Biden’s rhetoric about bipartisanship.
“There has been this call to unity yesterday, but there has so far been no fig leaf to the Republican Party. You don’t have a Republican Cabinet member like President Obama had, you don’t – the executive orders that he’s come out of the gate (with) have been largely designed at erasing as much of the Trump legacy as you can with executive orders,” he said.
“Where is the actual action behind this idea of bipartisanship, and when are we going to see one of those substantial outreaches that says, ‘This is something that the Republicans want to do too’?”
“There’s a lot in there, so let me do my best,” Ms Paski quipped.
“Is unemployment insurance an issue that only Democrats want? Or do only Democrats want their kids to go back to schools? Do only Democrats want vaccines to be distributed across the country?
“We feel that package – he feels that package – is designed for bipartisan support. I’ll also say that we’ve also had some positive developments on our confirmations and our nominees.
“I think if you talk to Republicans on the Hill, they will say they’re not looking for something symbolic. They’re looking for engagement. They’re looking to have a conversation. They’re looking to have a dialogue. And that’s exactly what he’s going to do.”
Right now, they’re also looking for a guarantee that the filibuster will not be changed. She didn’t mention that.
PSAKI ADDRESSES THE QUESTION BIDEN SNAPPED AT
Earlier, Mr Biden got snippy with a reporter for asking whether his target of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days was too low.
Ms Psaki fielded the same question during the briefing.
“Can you just elaborate a little bit on why the President isn’t setting the bar a little bit higher, given the magnitude of the crisis?” a reporter asked.
“Well, none of us are mathematicians, myself included, so I asked our team to do a little math on this,” Ms Psaki said.
“So, the Trump administration was given 36 million doses when they were in office, for 38 days. They administered a total of about 17 million shots. That’s less than 500,000 shots a day.
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“What we are proposing is to double that. To do about one million shots per day. And we have outlined this objective in consultation with our health experts.
“It is ambitious. It’s something we feel is bold.”
The figures she offered are not wrong, but they are selective – they include the earliest days of vaccine distribution back in December, when much lower quantities of shots were being administered.
In the last week, the US has averaged about 900,000 shots a day, which is already close to the million per day Mr Biden is targeting.
EXCUSE FOR BIDEN’S MASK RULE-BREAKING
Ms Psaki awkwardly stumbled over a question over why the President broke his own mask rules by not wearing one during his inauguration yesterday.
She was asked what kind of example the President was setting by breaking his own rules so soon after signing an executive order that made wearing masks on federal property mandatory.
Ms Psaki’s excuse was that her boss was allowed to break the rules because he was “celebrating an evening of a historic day”.
It is not clear if the executive order includes an exemption to wearing masks for presidents celebrating with family after being inaugurated.
Ms Psaki said Mr Biden was “leading by example” on mask wearing.
“I think that the power of his example is the message he sends by signing 25 executive orders including almost half of them related to COVID,” she said.
“Yesterday was a historic moment in our history, he was inaugurated as President of the United States, he was surrounded by his family, we take a number of precautions but I think we have bigger issues to worry about at this moment in time,” she added.
None of the nine Biden family members that joined the President wore masks either.