Too bad this only took place live on CNN+ where literally scores of people got to enjoy Jen Psaki’s discomfort live. (And a platform literally scores will miss, most of those within CNN.) Fortunately the moment lives on in social media, where Chris Wallace’s pointed questions about White House handling of press engagement with Joe Biden gets a lot more attention. The issue took on a critical acute nature this week after the Easter Bunny apparently told Biden to stop talking to reporters … and he complied.
Chris Wallace asked Jen Psaki why Biden has been so sheltered from the press.
Psaki got clearly offended and Wallace actually pushed back! pic.twitter.com/8QHJZPBoxS
— Kevin Tober (@KevinTober94) April 20, 2022
“In his first year, Joe Biden held two solo news conferences in the White House,” Wallace rebutted Psaki. “And he held five on foreign trips, and take a look at this, in his first year Mr. Biden sat down for twenty-eight interviews with reporters. That compares to ninety-five in the same period of time for Donald Trump, and a hundred and sixty-two for Barack Obama. By comparison, Jen that’s sheltered.”
Psaki tried to defend Biden by claiming the moments when he takes questions from reporters as he’s walking out of the White House to get on the helicopter should count towards that overall total.
Wallace understandably disagreed claiming that “when you’re standing there, you can take a question you can answer it, you can slough it off and you move on” adding that “oftentimes he [Biden] gives a partial answer and walks away.” Whereas when you are participating in a sit-down interview with a reporter “you can’t duck it. You gotta sit there and answer the question and the follow-up.”
After getting schooled, Psaki meekly replied “we can agree to disagree on that Chris.” Adding the excuse “I think how he has felt engaging with the press makes sense to him or works, is how he used to do it in the Senate.”
Uh … sure, Jen. Is this how Biden used to do it in the Senate?
— Thomas C. Dillon (@craigtdillon) April 18, 2022
EASTER BUNNY to Joe: This way… pic.twitter.com/joU3SmdORZ
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) April 18, 2022
That’s been the worst optics of the White House attempts to shelter Biden from the press. However, the lack of press conferences and one-on-one interviews, even with friendlier outlets, have hardly gone unnoticed. The most significant of the latter took places in August 2021, in which Biden told George Stephanopoulos that he would not leave Americans behind in Afghanistan just days before abandoning thousands of Americans to the Taliban in his rush to retreat:
President Biden on Aug.19
Stephanopoulos: Does that mean troops will stay beyond Aug 31st if necessary?
Biden: “We’re gonna do everything in our power to get all Americans out & our allies out”
Biden: “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out” pic.twitter.com/xiZPKdxUK2
— Mona Salama (@MonaSalama_) August 30, 2021
That triggered a confidence-crisis cascade for voters that has never abated, in part because that was hardly the only disastrous part of the Stephanopoulos interview. The White House was sheltering Biden even before this, but afterward have been almost as reluctant to let Biden talk with reporters unfettered as they have been for Kamala Harris to do the same thing. The Easter Bunny Intervention was only the splashiest and most desperate attempt to shut Biden down — and notably while addressing a question about Afghanistan, too.
It’s tough to watch these clips of a White House comms-team staffer throwing herself between Biden and reporters and telling the president what to do and not thinking he’s being “sheltered.” Or even “run.” Kudos to Wallace for pressing Psaki on this point. Perhaps CNN will even allow Wallace to start asking these questions on-air in the future, eh? And maybe next time, Wallace — or anyone else — can ask how many of the 14,000 Americans abandoned by Joe Biden remain stuck in Afghanistan.