White House press secretary Jen Psaki got into a tense back and forth with New York Post reporter Steven Nelson on whether President Biden would push teachers to return to work during the pandemic.
The exchange occurred at Friday’s White House press briefing. Psaki did not appear to appreciate Nelson’s line of questioning and, in the end, snapped that he was not the spokesperson for the White House.
Nelson asked Psaki: “Will President Biden use the power of the bully pulpit to help cajole teachers who are unwilling to go back to schools — to go back?”
She responded in a noticeably negative fashion and evaded the question: “Well, one, I’m just going to reject the premise of the question. I will say I have teachers in my family, as I’m sure many of you do. They are the first people to tell you that being — teaching in the classroom and being able to engage with kids in the classroom — or middle-schoolers or high-schoolers in the classroom — it makes their job more enjoyable, makes them more effective at what they do.”
Psaki continued by saying: “The President is absolutely committed to reopening schools. He wants them not just to reopen, but to stay open, and he wants to do that in a safe way. And we’re going to rely on CDC guidance — which, again, is not officially out yet — to determine the best way to do it.”
“But there are several mitigating factors that we’ve seen in data to date that will help make it safe. Of course, vaccines are part of that, but so is masking, so is social distancing, so is ensuring that schools have the ventilation and the facilities that they need in order to do it safely. That’s our focus,” she continued.
“So the President’s focus is on — and that’s one of the reasons why he’s out advocating for the American Rescue Plan. Part of that is funding so that schools can do exactly that,” Psaki concluded.
Nelson was apparently not satisfied with the evasively vague answer. He responded: “So it sounded like a “yes” with an asterisk (inaudible) safely…”
That was when Psaki decided she had had enough on that topic from Nelson and retorted: “I — if you — if you are the spokesperson for the White House, you could certainly say that, but you are not. But you can ask me another question.”
This is the second time that Psaki has put a reporter in his place and it is a preview of how the White House will most likely handle the media going forward.
This is also not the first time that Psaki has sidestepped the issue of teachers getting back in the classrooms.
Biden press secretary Jen Psaki working hard to resist students vs teacher-unions frame for school re-opening choices
WH plainly sees this as political vulnerability
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) February 4, 2021
Fox News’ Kristen Fisher asked Psaki on Thursday: “Michael Bloomberg said yesterday that it’s time for President Biden to stand up and say that the kids are the most important thing and stand up to the teachers unions,” Fisher said. “If it comes down to a binary choice, and there is no indication that the teachers union in Chicago or California are willing to budge at this point, if it came down to a binary decision, who would win, the students or the teachers?”
Psaki called the phrasing unfair: “I think it’s unfair how you posed that question, but President Biden wants schools to be open, teachers want schools to be open, families want schools to be open, but we want to do it safely,” Psaki continued, saying that she thought parents would approve of opening schools but only in a safe manner.
REPORTER: “If it comes down to a binary choice, who would the president choose: the kids or the teachers [unions]?”@PressSec: “I think it’s a little bit unfair how you posed that question, but the president wants schools to be open.” pic.twitter.com/ABvPoZjh8L
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) February 4, 2021
“But the president is clear. He wants schools to open and stay open. He doesn’t want them open for a month. That’s disruptive for students, for teachers, for families, so he wants the proper steps to be taken so they can reopen and stay open,” she stated.
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