Are we sure the problem lies with Karine Jean-Pierre and not her boss? Politico reports on the rising dissatisfaction in the White House briefing room over the performance of Joe Biden’s new press secretary, who took over the podium with much fanfare as the first black and openly LGBTQ person to fill the role. Jean-Pierre may check the boxes, but she doesn’t add much else, according to the complaints after just a month on the job:
Her answers have baffled reporters, and even made some of her White House colleagues wince. She has increasingly found herself sharing the podium or splitting briefings with JOHN KIRBY, who has been taking the lead on foreign policy and at times appears to function as a co-press secretary. …
She was unaware that Interior Secretary DEB HAALAND had tested positive for Covid and didn’t know Biden had been with Haaland two days before at a Memorial Day event. “Oh, were they?” she said, to which the reporter pointedly noted pictures of the pair.
And when asked that day about the president telling Naval Academy graduates that he had been appointed to the academy in 1965 — a claim met with skepticism — Jean Pierre said: “I didn’t hear that part of the speech.”
Reporters were confused by her refusal to answer questions at a recent briefing about the last time the president had been tested for Covid-19, something her predecessor regularly disclosed. (He tested negative, senior officials later told NBC News.)
Press secretaries can’t possibly keep tabs on every story line so it’s not unusual for them to acknowledge when they don’t know the answer and pledge to find more information after the briefing.
But that has been a more common response for Jean-Pierre in her first weeks than her predecessor. In her first 10 briefings as press secretary, Jean-Pierre said she didn’t have the information being sought 20-plus times more than predecessor JEN PSAKI in her first 10 briefings, according to a review of the transcripts by West Wing Playbook.
More often than Psaki, who made “circle back” a national meme? That’s tough to imagine. If it is true, then it’s worse than it sounds.
However, a press secretary can only do so much, too. Not to jump to Jean-Pierre’s defense, but how much of this information deficit can be attributed to her lack of preparation, and how much of it to Biden and the rest of his team? It’s certainly a combination of both to some extent, but perhaps to a large extent. This isn’t a White House that has proven strategic in any way, shape, or form; Biden and his entire team are reactive, late to the game, and always always always unprepared.
To use just one example among many, is this KJP’s fault?
"Biden: “I became aware of this problem in early April”
It took Biden until May 13 to first mention the baby formula crisis. pic.twitter.com/RjNhFduQHF"
— Republican Women of Mercer County 💪🇺🇸 (@RWOMC) June 2, 2022
And let’s not forget that the formula crisis began not in April, not even in February, but at least as far back as October 2021. It took six months for word to reach Biden even though his FDA had amplified the crisis by shutting down the Abbott production facility that supplied most of the SNAP/WIC formula for low-income parents. It took another full month for Biden to do anything about it, too, and even then the White House’s response was a lame, useless website that CNN ripped as inconsequential.
If the President is this much in the dark, how can we expect his press secretary to be more well informed? If anything, it almost looks as though the White House is using Jean-Pierre as a way to gather what the press is thinking in order to calculate responses rather than using their knowledge to craft strategic messaging. That’s clearly what happened in the baby-formula shortage, which the White House ignored until the press got angry about it. It’s what happened with supply-chain shortages as well, when the press began asking questions in the Psaki era and also got the Psaki circle-backs as a response. To a large extent, the same can be said about inflation, which at first the White House pretended didn’t exist, then called it “growth,” then excused it as “transitory,” and went through a number of other excuses only when the media pressed Psaki about it.
That doesn’t mean Jean-Pierre is good at her job either. She might be terrible at it. But in an administration this incompetent, who can tell?