Image courtesy of the White House
As President Biden crosses the 100-day mark of his presidency, so does White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Her tenure has been a notable shift from the combative tone of her predecessors under the Trump administration, but the 100 days have not been without criticism or conflict.
During Psaki’s first appearance in the briefing room, she promised reporters she would bring “truth and transparency” to her relationship with the media, identifying herself as an advocate for a free and independent press and vowing to take questions from almost every reporter.
As history has shown with past press secretaries, there is a tendency to avoid certain questions while engaging with others. News media outlets described Psaki’s first press briefing as notably different from those of the Trump administration. Some deemed the conference to be a “breath of fresh air” and others noted it was calm and boring.
First non-weird White House Press Secretary in four years.
— Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC) January 21, 2021
Psaki’s style has been compared to that of the Obama years when press briefings were not as combative, and she has been applauded for her professionalism and willingness to work with the press.
The relationship between the press and the White House has always been rocky. This tumultuous relationship is not a recent issue nor was it unique to the Trump administration. However, Trump’s press secretaries were unusually combative with the press and briefings were scarce.
The Trump administration did have difficult times with the media, beginning with former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer who continuously argued that the media was trying to undermine the president. Succeeding him was Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who had frequent disagreements with reporters who felt they could not gain clarity on President Trump’s shifting perspectives and statements. The Trump administration ended its term with Kayleigh McEnany.
The Biden administration has focused on connecting with local and specialty media outlets in briefings. Psaki takes pride in this initiative and said, “Now the press team is taking the next step to make sure we’re speaking to every corner and constituency in America.”
She has been responsible for updating the press on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. In a recent briefing, she answered reporters who were skeptical about the timing of the new relaxed outdoor mask guidelines.
When asked why Americans had to wait so long for eased mask protocols, she replied, “I think we want Americans to be confident in the information they’re receiving from the federal government. It’s been important to us to lead with health and medical experts, to provide them the time they need to make these evaluations so that when the CDC comes out with guidance, the American people know they can trust it.”
While the press has praised Psaki’s calm style, she has been criticized for deflecting from particular questions and avoiding certain outlets, especially conservative ones.
Does Jen Psaki ever produce an answer later in the week when she says she'll "circle back"?
— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) April 22, 2021
Washington Times columnist Tim Young tweeted, “Does Jen Psaki ever produce an answer later in the week when she says she’ll ‘circle back’?”
Fox News reporter Peter Doocy confronted Psaki in a recent briefing, asking why Fox was the only member of the five network press pool that was not able to ask the president a question at his first press conference. Psaki responded she would continue having conversations with Fox herself.
The media has also been displeased with Psaki’s answers regarding immigration and what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border. She was unable to produce a timeline for when the public would be able to see images from inside border facilities. When reporters pressed her on documenting the facilities, Psaki said she would work with the administration to potentially release photos and provide a public update.
Fox News criticized Psaki for not referring to the influx of unaccompanied children at the border as a crisis, pointing out that she has labeled other issues as crises in the past, from climate change to gun control.
The Biden administration received criticism after struggling to provide cohesive messages about its refugee admissions policy. The administration changed their story on when and how they were planning to increase the refugee cap six times in three weeks. The cap for this fiscal year cited by Psaki has varied from that stated by others within the Biden administration.
Psaki has also evaded other questions from which the administration has sought to distance itself. She did not directly state whether Biden agrees with Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-CA) who encouraged demonstrators to be more confrontational in the event that Derek Chauvin was acquitted of murdering George Floyd.
When asked about these comments, Psaki said Biden believes “protests must be peaceful.”