Karine Jean-Pierre faces backlash as White House correspondents express frustration

Karine Jean-Pierre faces backlash as White House correspondents express frustration

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House Press Secretary, is facing significant backlash from White House correspondents who are expressing growing frustration with her handling of press briefings. The tension has been building over her frequent invocation of the Hatch Act, a federal law that restricts government employees from engaging in political activities, to avoid answering certain questions.

Since September, Jean-Pierre has cited the Hatch Act 33 times at the podium, a move that many reporters see as a tactic to dodge difficult questions. This has led to accusations that she is misusing the law to evade transparency, particularly on issues that are not directly related to political campaigning.

Richard Painter, a former chief White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, criticized Jean-Pierre’s broad application of the Hatch Act. He argued that questions about the president’s medical records, for instance, are legitimate and unrelated to the Hatch Act. “It sounds like she’s overly broad in her application of the Hatch Act. It’s just that she doesn’t want to answer a question on the president’s medical records,” Painter said.

Jean-Pierre’s frequent use of the Hatch Act has also been noted in her refusal to answer questions about President Biden’s travel plans during the Georgia Senate runoff, his physical examination results, and political donations from disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried. These instances have only fueled the frustration among White House correspondents.

Leading up to the Georgia Senate runoff in December, Jean-Pierre repeatedly refused to answer questions on whether Biden would travel to the state before Election Day, citing the Hatch Act. This was despite the fact that incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock notably refused to say whether he would campaign with Biden.

Painter pointed out that questions related to the president’s schedule, even if they are related to a political campaign, can be answered without violating the law. “When you look at the Hatch Act, she can’t use her official position to promote his campaign or to attack an opponent,” Painter said. He added that Jean-Pierre could provide information on the president’s whereabouts and the general nature of his activities, whether political or not.

A former Trump White House official also criticized Jean-Pierre, suggesting that she wants to have it both ways by using the Hatch Act to dodge campaign-related questions while making blatantly political statements about “ultra-MAGA” and “extreme MAGA” individuals. These terms were used by Biden in the lead-up to the 2022 midterms to describe some Republican candidates.

Jean-Pierre’s caution may stem from a legitimate concern within the Biden White House. The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates potential Hatch Act violations, had previously come down on her predecessor, Jen Psaki, for a Hatch Act violation during an October 2021 press briefing where she appeared to endorse former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in his gubernatorial race.

Delaney Marsco, senior legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a government watchdog group, noted that questions related to campaign issues are not necessarily off-limits. “To me, it makes sense that Karine Jean-Pierre is being careful when she weighs in on things that could be construed as political activity,” Marsco told Fox News.

As President Biden considers a potential re-election bid, White House reporters are likely to hear more about the Hatch Act in the coming months. Robyn Patterson, White House assistant press secretary, emphasized the administration’s commitment to the rule of law. “This White House believes in the rule of law, and we’ll continue to provide information to members of the media while working within the bounds of federal statutes,” Patterson said.

Patterson also suggested that reporters who have issues with the Hatch Act should petition their members of Congress to push for changes to the law. “More broadly, when it comes to political campaigns and other political activity, we generally will continue to refer you to the DNC and relevant campaigns,” Patterson added.

The frustration with Jean-Pierre’s handling of press briefings is not limited to her use of the Hatch Act. The Biden administration has also faced criticism over its response to various crises, including the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been under fire for what some lawmakers and local residents describe as a delayed and lackluster response to the incident.

The Feb. 3 accident, in which a 141-car train carrying hazardous materials went off-track and burst into flames, has become a political headache for President Biden and his top aides. Residents have expressed fears about potential health risks and long-term contamination of the air and drinking water. The situation has grown from a transportation incident to a multipronged calamity involving environmental, health care, legal, and housing components.

Senator J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) criticized Buttigieg for blaming the Trump administration for loosening train safety rules. “The Department of Transportation — your Department of Transportation — has things it can do,” Vance told reporters. “Stop blaming Donald Trump, a guy who hasn’t been president for three years, and use the powers of the federal government to do the things necessary to help people in this community.”

The Biden administration has defended its response, pointing to actions taken by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed criticism that too much time had elapsed before top federal officials were at the site of the accident. “Hours after the derailment, the EPA team was on the ground,” she told reporters.

Despite these assurances, concerns among residents of East Palestine remain high. Some have reported dizziness, itchy skin, and headaches in the days since the crash. The EPA has said the chemicals involved in the accident were vinyl chloride, its byproducts phosgene and hydrogen chloride, butyl acrylate, and others.

Buttigieg, who has not yet visited East Palestine, has come under especially heavy criticism from local residents and national politicians alike. “Where’s Pete Buttigieg?” one community member shouted during a town forum. “I don’t know,” responded East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway. “Your guess is as good as [mine].”

The scrutiny of Buttigieg has led to some rare bursts of bipartisanship. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) agreed with a tweet by Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) that highlighted the potential long-term health effects of the derailment and called for “direct action from @PeteButtigieg to address this tragedy.”

Buttigieg responded by welcoming the “new found bipartisan agreement” and saying Congress should take action to make it easier for his department to enhance train safety regulations. “Give us a call, we can do some good work,” he wrote.

As the Biden administration navigates these challenges, the frustration among White House correspondents with Karine Jean-Pierre’s handling of press briefings continues to simmer. The frequent invocation of the Hatch Act and the administration’s response to various crises have only added to the growing tension.

Source: Al Jazeera, Fox News, The Washington Post

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