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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki got into a heated exchange with a reporter when she refused to answer a simple question about Biden.
New York Post reporter Steven Nelson asked Psaki about a Vanity Fair report from December, which alleged that White House COVID-19 advisors had been briefed about pandemic response strategies and were told they should ship free rapid tests to households in case of a new surge.
The Vanity Fair report alleged that Biden’s COVID advisers rejected the idea. The report did not explicitly state that President Joe Biden was briefed or made the decision not to send the tests.
Nelson asked Psaki if Biden himself had been briefed on that idea back in December because the administration is now sending tests to Americans for free starting this month.
Psaki largely dodged the question and instead listed actions that Biden has taken as well as emphasized the administration was following through now with sending out free tests.
“The president used the Defense Production Act, invested $3 billion to expand it, quadrupled the size of our testing capacity, and now we’ve ordered one billion doses,” Psaki said. “So we see that as, our COVID team, the members who participated, saw that as a very constructive meeting, a good meeting, a lot of which we worked to implement.”
Nelson doubled down and pressed Psaki again for a direct answer.
“I think I just answered your question, which you may not have been listening. Maybe you were waiting to read your next question, which is fine,” Psaki fired back. “But I just answered your question.”
“That’s not the question I asked,” Nelson hit back, before trying one last time to get an answer.
Psaki claimed she already answered the question and moved on to another reporter.
The Vanity Fair report from December alleged that White House COVID-19 advisors were told they should ship millions of free rapid tests to households across the country.
On October 22, a group of COVID-19 testing experts joined a Zoom call with officials from the Biden administration and presented a strategy for overhauling America’s approach to testing.
The 10-page plan, which Vanity Fair has obtained, would enable the U.S. to finally do what many other countries had already done: Put rapid at-home COVID-19 testing into the hands of average citizens, allowing them to screen themselves in real time and thereby help reduce transmission. The plan called for an estimated 732 million tests per month, a number that would require a major ramp-up of manufacturing capacity. It also recommended, right on the first page, a nationwide “Testing Surge to Prevent Holiday COVID Surge.”
The plan, in effect, was a blueprint for how to avoid what is happening at this very moment—endless lines of desperate Americans clamoring for tests in order to safeguard holiday gatherings, just as COVID-19 is exploding again. Yesterday, President Biden told David Muir of ABC News, “I wish I had thought about ordering” 500 million at-home tests “two months ago.” But the proposal shared at the meeting in October, disclosed here for the first time, included a “Bold Plan for Impact” and a provision for “Every American Household to Receive Free Rapid Tests for the Holidays/New Year.”
“Three days after the meeting, on October 25, the COVID-19 testing experts—who hailed from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Rockefeller Foundation, the COVID Collaborative, and several other organizations—received a backchannel communication from a White House official,” the Vanity Fair report stated.
“Their big, bold idea for free home tests for all Americans to avoid a holiday surge, they were told, was dead. That day, the administration instead announced an initiative to move rapid home tests more swiftly through the FDA’s regulatory approval process,” the report added.