White House press secretary Jen Psaki went into spin mode Monday when confronted by a Fox News reporter about President Joe Biden’s apparent hypocrisy in enacting a travel ban on eight African countries.
Biden announced the travel ban — which went into effect Monday — last week at the same time the World Health Organization warned that a new COVID-19 variant, dubbed “Omicron,” could trigger new waves of COVID infections. But it was immediately pointed out that Biden sharply criticized former President Donald Trump after he enacted travel restrictions on China in January 2020.
What did Psaki say?
During Monday’s press briefing at the White House, Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy asked Psaki about Biden’s criticism of Trump’s actions and how, in light of Biden’s travel ban, the president is not guilty of hypocrisy.
Doocy asked, “Before Joe Biden was president, he said that COVID travel restrictions on foreign countries were ‘hysterical xenophobia’ and ‘fearmongering.’ So what changed?”
The question sent Psaki into total spin mode. In fact, Psaki actually claimed that Biden was not referring to Trump’s travel ban per se, but rather his rhetoric surrounding China, where the COVID pandemic originated. Psaki claimed Biden has not been critical of travel restrictions.
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 what he called the coronavirus, and who he directed it at.
The president has not been critical of travel restrictions. We have put those in place ourselves. We put them in place ourselves in the spring. But no, 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.
Reporter Presses Psaki On Biden Calling Trump’s Travel Restrictions ‘Xenophobic’
But what really happened?
While campaigning in Iowa on Jan. 31, 2020, Biden slammed Trump for “hysterical xenophobia” and “fearmongering” on the same day Trump announced travel restrictions banning foreign nationals who had been in China from entering the U.S.
“We have, right now, a crisis with the coronavirus,” Biden said. “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia — hysterical xenophobia — and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science.”
Contrary to Psaki’s claims, Reuters reported at the time that Biden was not referring to Trump’s tweets, but rather to Trump’s policies.
Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden on Friday criticized President Donald Trump for reducing U.S. oversight of global health issues before the coronavirus outbreak in China, which has spread rapidly to several countries including the United States.
Biden said Trump had rolled back progress on global health oversight that occurred when he was vice president from 2009 to 2017. In particular, he cited “draconian cuts” the White House proposed to the budgets of “the very agencies that we need to fight this outbreak,” including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Even further contradicting Psaki is the fact that Trump only tweeted positively about China and the coronavirus in January 2020.
- On Jan. 24, 2020, Trump tweeted: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
- On Jan. 27, 2020, Trump tweeted: “We are in very close communication with China concerning the virus. Very few cases reported in USA, but strongly on watch. We have offered China and President Xi any help that is necessary. Our experts are extraordinary!”
In fact, a Washington Post article from June 2020 seems to indicate that Trump did not begin using “racially insensitive” terms to refer to COVID-19 — like “Chinese virus” or “kung flu” — until March 2020.
Meanwhile, the media engaged in a full-court press to criticize Trump for enacting the travel restrictions. For example, CNN published a story titled, “The US coronavirus travel ban could backfire. Here’s how,” while Politico ran a story with the same angle, “Coronavirus quarantine, travel ban could backfire, experts fear.”
The irony of the media’s narrative at the time is encapsulated in a Vox story published in late January 2020, which claimed travel bans don’t work. An editor’s note on that story, added in April 2021, reads, “This article, published in January 2020, does not reflect the emerging science around travel restrictions to prevent the spread of epidemics.”
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Author: Chris Enloe
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