Jen Psaki politely puts Fox reporter in his place

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a press briefing on Friday August 6, 2021, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a press briefing on Friday August 6, 2021, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. Photo: Official White House Photo by Erin Scott

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki caught a Fox News reporter misstating comments President Joe Biden made nearly two years ago and corrected him in front of everyone at the press briefing yesterday.

“Before Joe Biden was president, he said that COVID travel restrictions on foreign countries were ‘hysterical xenophobia’ and ‘fearmongering.’  So what changed?” Fox journalist Peter Doocy asked, thinking he caught Biden being a hypocrite for denouncing Donald Trump’s travel restrictions last year and then imposing travel restrictions on South Africa and seven other nations himself this past weekend to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Related: Jen Psaki shuts down reporter demanding China pay “reparations” for COVID-19

Except Biden never actually said those things about travel restrictions.

Doocy was referring to a January 31, 2020 speech Biden made during the Democratic primary. The speech occurred on the same day that the Trump administration announced travel restrictions on people who were recently in China, but Biden’s campaign said that he hadn’t even heard about the travel restrictions yet and he didn’t mention them in his speech.

“This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria xenophobia, hysterical xenophobia, and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science,” Biden said in that speech. His campaign said that he was referring to Trump’s long history of xenophobia – like calling COVID-19 “Wuhan virus” and “Kung flu” – not a specific policy.

Trump even retweeted a supporter last year who called it the “Chinese virus,” stirring tensions with China. China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement that said, “Any scheme to smear China will be doomed to fail, and any move to harm the interests of China will be countered resolutely.”

“Well, I would say, first — to put it in full context, Peter — what the president was critical of was the way that the former president put out, I believe, a xenophobic tweet; and how he called — what he called the coronavirus, and who he directed it at,” Psaki responded.

“The president has not been critical of travel restrictions,” she told him. “We have put those in place ourselves. We put them in place ourselves in the spring. But no, he does not believe — he believes we should follow the advice of health and medical experts. That’s exactly what he did in putting in place these restrictions over the weekend.”

The idea that Biden opposed travel restrictions in that speech is an old accusation on the right; Trump himself accused Biden of calling him “a xenophobe, I think he called me a racist” in the last presidential debate in October 2020 over travel restrictions.

PolitiFact rated that statement “Mostly False.”

Biden’s campaign supported travel restrictions in the face of coronavirus and in April said the U.S. should not “panic or fall back on xenophobia” and criticized Trump for calling COVID-19 “a foreign virus.”

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