A White House media briefing ended up with a very frustrated Biden administration representative after repeated questions were asked about politics tainting Biden’s decision-making process concerning the Middle East.
The duel featured NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby against a media representative, identified by the Recount as Kimberly Halkett of the Al Jazeera news organization.
The sparring began with Halkett asking about Biden potentially exceeding his authority in attacks he has authorized on the Yemen-based Houthi rebels, who have been attacking shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, according to a video clip posted to X.
Halkett was referring to a letter to Biden from nearly 30 House members calling his actions in the Middle East “unauthorized,” according to the Associated Press.
“As representatives of the American people, Congress must engage in robust debate before American servicemembers are put in harm’s way and before more U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent on yet another war in the Middle East. No president, regardless of political party, has the constitutional authority to bypass Congress on matters of war,” the letter, signed by lawmakers of both parties, said.
“We’re not at war with the Houthis. We’re not going to be at — we’re not looking for a war with Iran. The president is comfortable that he has the appropriate legal authorities to act in self-defense of our ships, our sailors, and our troops and our facilities at sea or ashore,” Kirby replied at the Monday briefing.
Contention soon followed.
John Kirby clashes with Al Jazeera’s @KimberlyHalkett at WH press briefing:
“[Biden’s] not looking at political calculations, or the polling, or the electoral calendar as he works to protect our troops ashore and our ships at sea … any suggestion to the contrary is offensive.” pic.twitter.com/LKwDcdE1vr
— The Recount (@therecount) January 29, 2024
“Right, but isn’t it time to involve the American people? I mean, given the fact that the American people were not happy about … ,” Halkett said before Kirby spoke over her.
“This is what the American people are not happy about: attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. I also suspect they’re not happy about seeing American troops killed at a base in Jordan. The president has the authority to defend those troops and those facilities, and he’ll do that,” Kirby said.
Then Halkett waded into a place Kirby did not want to go.
“You said the president is weighing all of his options. This is an election year. Is the president looking at his polling when he’s weighing all of these options? Is the president looking at what …,” Halektt began.
“I mean, my goodness. That’s a heck of a question. He’s not looking …,” Kirby said as the two began interrupting one another.
After saying “ma’m” three times as Halkett tried to speak, Kirby said, “Let me just stop you right there.”
“Let me finish my question,” Halkett replied.
“The commander-in-chief is not looking at polling or considering the electoral calendar when he’s defending …” Kirby said.
“He’s not looking at how they feel about the war on Gaza?” Halektt said as they spoke over each other before Kirby replied.
“He’s not looking at political calculations or the polling or the electoral calendar as he works to protect our troops ashore and our ships at sea. And any suggestion to the contrary is offensive,” Kirby said.
As Kirby interrupted, Halkett kept on.
“Is he looking at the polling with respect to … Does the American public want a broader Middle East conflict when he weighs his political decision-making?”
“Ma’am, I’ve answered that question,” Kirby replied as White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre chimed in, “OK, let’s go.”
Halket would not stop, replying “No, you didn’t answer that question. Is he weighing that?”
“He is not concerning himself with the political calendar,” Kirby said.
Jean-Pierre and a visibly irritated Kirby tried to derail Halkett as she asked, “Does the American public have the opportunity to weigh in on whether they want ‘Made in America’ stamped on the bombs that are going to be dropped?”
The dispute ended with Jean-Pierre saying, “We’re gonna move on.”