White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki marked the one-year anniversary of President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Thursday by walking into the lion’s den. For the first time in her role as Biden’s top flack, she appeared on a Fox News weekday show.
Those expecting a knock-down, drag-out fight between the spokesperson and Fox anchors, however, would have been left largely disappointed. In the end, the 13-minute interview was a mostly friendly affair that ended with light questioning and well-wishes for Psaki’s favorite NFL team.
Co-anchors Bill Hemmer and Dana Perino kicked off the lengthy chat on Thursday morning with some friendly banter, noting that both Psaki and Hemmer are fans of the Cincinnati Bengals, currently competing in the playoffs.
“Hopefully no breaking news you have to deal with during the Bengals game. We will try to protect you from that,” Perino cheekily noted, prompting chuckles all around.
From there, the two America’s Newsroom hosts launched into some of the biggest points of contention that arose from Biden’s marathon Wednesday afternoon press conference. Namely, the president’s suggestion that upcoming elections may not be legitimate if voting rights legislation isn’t passed, and Biden seemingly indicating that America would be fine with a Russian “minor incursion” with Ukraine.
Noting that Democrats’ voting bill failed in the Senate, Perino wondered if the White House would “continue to say” that future elections will be illegitimate.
Psaki, having already attempted to clean up Biden’s remarks via Twitter earlier in the day, stuck to those same talking points. “First, I talked to the president a lot about this and he is not predicting that the 2022 elections would be illegitimate,” she declared. “The point he was raising was both, that in 2020, even amongst challenging circumstances efforts to suppress the vote in the midst of a pandemic, there was record turnout. Democrats and Republicans—record turnout to go to the polls. The point he was making was that the former president asked seven or more states to overturn the outcome of the election. Now obviously, if there is an effort to do that, we have to fight against it.”
Throughout the conversation, Psaki appeared cheerful and congenial, regardless of how pointed her hosts’ questions became. She also leaned on shared interests and commonalities in an effort to disarm her interviewers.
For example, after Perino asked her if there was an “off-ramp” for unvaccinated Americans now that some European countries are easing vaccine mandates and restrictions as the Omicron surge dissipates, the press secretary invoked Hemmer’s Bengals fandom.
“At the same time, Dana you make a really important point. We don’t want to live like this. You heard the president say we don’t want to live like this forever,” she stated. “We want to get back to a point where we aren’t wearing masks, of course. Where we’re not worried about our kids being in school and where we can go on and cheer for the Bengals. That one’s for you, Bill.”
Psaki did dish out a little snark—at least when it came to one of Hemmer’s questions.
After the veteran newsman noted that the issue of immigration and border security never came up during the Biden presser, Hemmer asked Psaki if we should expect another record year of border encounters in 2022.
“Well, I’m surprised Bill, as well,” a smiling Psaki retorted. “It was a nearly two-hour press conference and people asked whatever they wanted, including crazy questions in there.”
The press secretary was referencing the topics reporters from right-wing outlets—including Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy—decided to ask the president about on Wednesday. Doocy, for example, asked Biden why he’s “trying so hard” to “pull the country so far to the left.” James Rosen, a disgraced former Fox News reporter now with rival network Newsmax, used his time to press Biden on his “cognitive fitness.”
Even on the topic of Russia and Biden’s comments, which have created an international headache, Psaki held firm to her script. Even after Hemmer read aloud a just-posted tweet by the Ukrainian president taking a jab at Biden for appearing to shrug off a “minor incursion” by Russia.
“Thank you for the opportunity,” she responded. “I want to be very clear. The president has conveyed directly to President Putin that if there is a movement of any military troops across the border, that is an invasion. If they go in, that is an invasion and there will be severe economic consequences. I know the president of Ukraine knows that and we’ve conveyed it.”
Towards the end, the interview came full circle as the anchors once again engaged in light-hearted repartee with the Biden flack. Perino, a former White House spokesperson herself, expressed an air of comradery with Psaki, specifically over a president deciding on the fly to extend a press conference. (The ex-Bush administration official has commended Psaki in the past.)
“When the president said—looks at his watch and says, ‘I guess I’ll go another 24 minutes,’ I’m curious what your exact heart rate was at that point?” Perino quipped.
“I’m a pretty chill person in general. I may not always seem that way in the briefing room but I will say I knew – I watched and knew he was having a good time,” a beaming Psaki answered.
“I was having a heart attack for you,” Perino jokingly added.