She didn’t use props to drive a point home. Resorting to insults wasn’t her style. Saturday Night Live hardly ever satirized her. And her presence was consistent.
Although departing White House press secretary Jen Psaki may not have achieved the same notoriety as some of her predecessors — with her briefings lacking the antics to draw in big cable ratings — the Connecticut native quickly became known for her apt communication skills and pointed retorts coined #PsakiBombs by her admirers.
After answering questions from reporters for nearly every weekday of the almost 500 days she has served President Biden in the role, according to the Associated Press, Psaki marks her last day on the job this Friday. She will be handing the reigns to Karine Jean-Pierre, who has been her top deputy from the beginning. Psaki is expected to join MSNBC in an on-air position after she leaves.
“I’m an Irish lass in my heart. Sometimes I get a little fiery in there,” Psaki recently told Fox News “MediaBuzz” host Howard Kurtz. “But on most days, my hope and my objective is to not make it a gotcha moment, and to make it a place where we are providing information.”
Here is a roundup of some of the memorable exchanges Psaki had at the podium.
Defending Pete Buttigieg after he took parental leave: ‘He’s at work’
After Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, took parental leave last August to care for his newborn twins with husband Chasten, he fielded criticism from Republicans amid issues with the supply chain.
During one briefing this past October, Psaki took a question on the matter — and quickly rebutted the reporter’s suggestion that he was not performing his responsibilities.
“Given the seriousness of the supply chain crisis and the multiple issues that you outlined, wouldn’t it be wise for the secretary to get back on the bicycle so to speak and come back to work?” the reporter asked.
“He’s at work,” Psaki responded. “I was on a conference call with him this morning.”
“I think what you’re getting at here is this question about whether men, parents, women should have paternity and maternity leave,” she continued after being pressed again. “And the answer is absolutely yes. In our view, that is the policy of this administration. That is what we’re pressing to make law. So it’s a reality for women, parents, fathers across the country, and we’re not going to back away from that.”
On Biden supporting abortion: ‘He believes that it’s a woman’s right’
After a male reporter questioned last September how Biden can support people having access to abortion services despite his Catholic faith, Psaki pushed back on his contention.
“Why does the president support abortion when his own Catholic faith teaches abortion is morally wrong?” the reporter posited.
“He believes that it’s a woman’s right, it’s a woman’s body, and it’s her choice,” Psaki said.
When the reporter interjected to ask whom Biden believes “should look out for the unborn child,” Psaki again defended his position.
“He believes that it’s up for a woman to make those decisions, and up to a woman to make those decisions with her doctor,” she responded. “I know you’ve never faced those choices, nor have you ever been pregnant, but for women out there who have faced those choices, this is an incredibly difficult thing. The president believes that right should be respected.”
Her number of responses to questions about Trump
While at the lectern, Donald Trump was often introduced by reporters to open up a line of inquiry — whether the subject involved the coronavirus pandemic, the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, or immigration policy.
Psaki was often quick to draw a distinction between the Trump administration and the Biden administration. On several occasions, she denounced both the actions and words of the former president.
‘We don’t take our advice or counsel from ... Trump on immigration policy’
During one instance in March last year, Psaki responded directly to the former commander-in-chief after a reporter brought up how Trump released a statement criticizing the Biden administration over its immigration agenda.
“Former president Trump?” Psaki said. “We don’t take our advice or counsel from former president Trump on immigration policy, which was not only inhumane but ineffective over the last four years. We’re going to chart our own path forward, and that includes treating children with humanity and respect.”
‘His actions represented a unique and existential threat to our democracy’
In a separate exchange about Trump this past January, she did not mince words after the former president dangled the prospect of pardoning those who participated in the deadly attack on the Capitol if he returned to the White House.
“The former president and his actions represented a unique and existential threat to our democracy, as the President [Biden] has said many times,” Psaki said. “His remarks this weekend, he defended the actions of his supporters who stormed the Capitol and brutally attacked the law enforcement officers protecting it. I think it’s important to shout that out and call that out.”
“He even attacked his own vice president [Mike Pence] for not, in his words, having ‘overturned the election,’ and it’s just a reminder of how unfit he is for office,” she continued. “It’s telling that even some of his closest allies have rejected those remarks as inappropriate in the days since.”
Trump was ‘suggesting people inject versions of poison into their veins to cure COVID’
During an exchange this past August, Fox News’ Peter Doocy — whom Psaki regularly got into back-and-forths with — asked whether Biden created “vaccine hesitancy” by saying, “Don’t trust Donald Trump,” on the campaign trail.
“Not that we’ve seen in the data,” Psaki responded. “I would note that at the time, just for context, the former president was also suggesting people inject versions of poison into their veins to cure COVID. So I think that’s a relevant point.”
Supporting trans rights and slamming legislation like Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill
TRANS RIGHTS:— Forbes (@Forbes) February 9, 2021
White House Press Sec. Jen Psaki on trans and cis girls in high school competing in sporting events: “The President’s belief is that trans rights are human rights.” pic.twitter.com/6at4bwHxbG
After Biden signed an executive order in January last year aimed at combating “discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation,” a reporter asked Psaki a question about transgender athletes competing in high school sports. The topic has emerged as a cultural flashpoint among Republicans.
“What message does the White House have for trans girls and cis girls?” the reporter inquired. “Does the administration have guidance for schools on dealing with disputes arising over trans girls competing against and with cis girls?”
“I would just say that the president’s belief is that trans rights are human rights, and that’s why he signed that executive order,” Psaki responded.
She also condemned a bill passed by the Republican-dominated legislature in Florida this past March that prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels as “horrific” and contended it would lead to similar “hateful policies” being enacted. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has since signed the legislation into law.
A reporter broached the subject by first pressing Psaki on Biden’s voting record while serving as a senator for Delaware, and specifically when he moved in favor of passing legislation in 1994 that cut off federal funds to schools that taught “homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative.”
She deflected from fully answering to Biden’s past “views and comments” and instead shifted focus to where the president stands on LGBTQ issues now. Such legislation would discriminate against families and kids, Psaki said, and prevent children from receiving the support “they need at a time where that’s exactly what they need.”
“It’s a form of bullying. It is horrific,” she added.
On GOP anger over recent protests: ‘I would call the hypocrisy of silence’
Psaki: The reason people are protesting is because women across the country are worried about their fundamental rights that have been law for 50 years. Their rights to make choices about their own bodies and their own healthcare are at risk… pic.twitter.com/NBgDN0iCrw— Acyn (@Acyn) May 5, 2022
Psaki: What’s also important to note here is what I would call the hypocrisy of the silence on the other side when there has been intimidation outside of the homes of school board members, the Michigan SOS… pic.twitter.com/SFXgTezL2b— Acyn (@Acyn) May 10, 2022
In the wake of a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion pointing to the high likelihood of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision being overturned, abortion rights activists have engaged in demonstrations outside the homes of Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Justice Samuel Alito — sparking backlash from Republicans in the process.
Psaki has fielded questions from reporters over the protests — and what stance Biden has taken on them occurring — as a result.
“He doesn’t care if they’re protesting outside the Supreme Court or outside someone’s private residence?” Doocy asked.
“We want it of course to be peaceful, and certainly the president would want people’s privacy to be respected. But I think we shouldn’t lose the point here,” Psaki said. “The reason people are protesting is because women across the country are worried about their fundamental rights that have been law for 50 years. Their rights to make choices about their own bodies and their own health care are at risk.”
Several days later, Psaki again reasserted her earlier point, and this time raised the response of Republicans when other protests over different issues have taken place.
“What’s also important to note here is what I would call the hypocrisy of silence on the other side when there have been intimidation, protests outside of the homes of school board members, the Michigan Secretary of State,” she said. “There have been countless women who have dealt with and navigated through threats made as they’re seeking reproductive health care, which by the way has been legal for 50 years, and there has been no outcry about that.”
‘I am not the CDC director’
Last July, amid shifting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over when and where people should don face coverings to help protect themselves from being infected with the coronavirus, Doocy pressed Psaki on the matter.
“I think a lot of people got the vaccine because they were hearing him say if you get the vaccine, you don’t have to wear masks anymore,” Doocy said.
“And that continues to be CDC guidance,” Psaki responded.
“You can say that’s going to be the guidance forever?” Doocy asked.
“I am not the CDC director,” she said.
Doocy then said he understands “that people don’t care who tells them to wear masks,” when Psaki interjected.
“They should care. Shouldn’t they care if it’s a doctor or medical expert or a spokesperson?” Psaki said. “I think most Americans actually do care.”
‘The impact for people who are unvaccinated is far more dire’
Then this past January, Doocy inquired why Biden was continuing to refer to the pandemic as one “of the unvaccinated,” noting that despite both himself and Psaki being triple-vaxxed, they had each contracted the coronavirus.
“I had been triple-vaxxed. I had minor symptoms. There is a huge difference between that and being unvaccinated,” she responded.
Psaki then proceeded to cite data from the CDC to support her claim and the president’s characterization of the pandemic.
“You’re 17 times more likely to go to the hospital if you’re not vaccinated, 20 times more likely to die,” she said. “And those are significant, serious statistics. So yes, the impact for people who are unvaccinated is far more dire than those who are vaccinated.”
Despite their many encounters, the two appear to be ending on cordial terms, with Doocy and Psaki calling each other a “good sport.”
Doocy: Sorry to see you go— Acyn (@Acyn) May 5, 2022
Psaki: Are you? pic.twitter.com/QerK6a4GE0
Shannon Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.