What do you get a President who is running for re-election amid historically low approval ratings, a struggling economy, a border crisis and an ongoing impeachment inquiry? Two days before Christmas, NBC’s Today decided that it was the perfect time to host Joe Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, for some holiday softballs so she could do a little damage control on behalf of her boss.
Co-host Laura Jarrett (daughter of top Obama White House aide Valerie Jarrett) enthusiastically welcomed Jean-Pierre to NBC’s New York City studio. After a question about the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, fill-in co-host Joe Fryer tossed a softball about Biden’s poor economy ratings (which he argued was a “disconnect” between “a lot of positive headlines” that the public wasn’t appreciating. “What’s the disconnect here? What does the President have to do differently so people approve of his handling of the economy?”
Jarrett then followed up with an even softer softball about the border crisis. Instead of asking about the failure of policies that saw 242,418 border encounters in November (according to official statistics released just last night), or the even worse numbers posted in the last week of more than 10,000 per day, Jarrett gently prompted Jean-Pierre:
Obviously, all presidents grapple with what to do with immigration. Everybody agrees some type of immigration reform is needed. Where does immigration fall on President Biden’s to-do list? He’s thinking about a second term, doesn’t have a Congress on his side for this. Where does it fall in terms of a second term?
Against all evidence, Jean-Pierre insisted border security was “a priority” for the President, and that “the President is taking this very, very seriously.” She said Biden sent immigration legislation to Congress at the very start of his term in 2021, but didn’t explain why the then-Democratic-controlled House and Senate didn’t pass any of it. Watch:
And that was that. No follow-up, no pushback. There weren’t any questions about the public’s misgivings about Biden’s age, the multiple indictments of his son, Hunter, or any of the host of other issues that have driven the President’s poll numbers down to a level worse than any recent president at this point in his first term (including Jimmy Carter!).
The pro-Biden spin of the questions was amplified by NBC’s on-screen graphics. “HOW WILL BIDEN CONVINCE PUBLIC THE ECONOMY IS STRONG?” screamed one as Jean-Pierre insisted the economy was in fine shape. Then viewers saw “BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PLAN TO SECURE SOUTHERN BORDER,” in spite of the fact that there was no suggestion of any specific plan to reduce the record influx that has left the border near a “breaking point.”
Here’s the transcript of the full interview as it played out on the December 23, 2023 Today show (click expand):
LAURA JARRETT: As 2023 comes to a close, the war in the Middle East is not the only issue that Americans are concerned about. There is also the economy here at home, and the situation of course at the southern border. We want to welcome White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to Studio 1A to talk about President Biden’s plans for all of it. Karine, nice to see you, nice to have you here in New York!
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much.
LAURA JARRETT: Let’s start in Israel and picking up where [correspondent] Josh [Lederman] left off. More than 100 hostages still in captivity. We’ve learned about the death of an Israeli-American, just learned about it on Friday. What is the President’s message to the families this holiday season worried about their loved ones who have been in captivity more than, oh, two months now?
JEAN-PIERRE: Appreciate the opportunity to speak to this, because we are heartbroken, just heartbroken by the news of Gadi [Haggai], obviously, and his death, and it is just devastating to hear. And as you all – as Josh was reporting, you all know that Judy, his wife, is still being held hostage, and the President is going to do everything that he can to bring her home, to bring hostages home, American hostages home, and this is a commitment that the President has had as it relates to hostages more broadly across the globe, to bring them home safely to their loved ones, to their families. And it is devastating. It is devastating.
And so we’ve – this is something that since day one as it relates to hostages, humanitarian aid, the President has been working around the clock to get hostages home to their families, to their loved ones, and also get that all-important critical humanitarian aid into Gaza to the innocent people, the Palestinian people, who need those lifesaving, lifesaving medical treatment or whatever it is, really to, to make sure that they get that, the food. So, we’ve been doing that. We want to have another humanitarian pause. It’s incredibly important to have that. And so that’s what the President has been doing around the clock, talking to folks in the region to make sure that we get that done.
JOE FRYER: Let’s talk about the economy. There have been a lot of positive headlines this year, inflation is down, unemployment at a 50-year low, stock market reaching record highs. Despite that, people go to the grocery store, they’re not happy with what they’re seeing. A recent CNBC survey found nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the President’s handling of the economy. What’s the disconnect here? What does the President have to do differently so people approve of his handling of the economy?
JEAN-PIERRE: So there’s a lot there, right? We have seen some great data this week that showed consumer sentiment is up 14% this month, which is the largest jump that we have seen in over a decade. And what that means is that people are spending money, right? Whether it is on toys and appliances that they need for themselves or for the holidays. And so, that is important, critically important. I think the second piece, too, is that, as families are traveling across the country, going home, going back to see the families for the holidays, we have seen gas prices at under 3 bucks at the pump per gallon in 27 states.
So this is the work that the President has done. It’s incredibly important; 14 million jobs created. That matters, especially as we’re going into 2024. Folks are gonna probably going to be looking for jobs. If you think about wages going up, unemployment is under 4%, all of these things matter. So we’re going to continue to have those conversations. And the President has said he understands that people still feel like, things are still unaffordable. That’s why we’re working really hard to lower costs. You hear us talk about junk fees, right? We see that in credit cards, we see that in airlines. The President is fighting to really get that out of what Americans see in their monthly payments. So this is really important, giving Americans a little bit of breathing room. That is what the President says all the time, and we’re going to stay steadfast on it.
JARRETT: Karine, there’s so much we want to talk to you about. I don’t want to for – I don’t want to not cover immigration, because that’s obviously a huge issue, what’s going on at the southern border right now. Obviously, all presidents grapple with what to do with immigration. Everybody agrees some type of immigration reform is needed. Where does immigration fall on President Biden’s to-do list? He’s thinking about a second term, doesn’t have a Congress on his side for this. Where does it fall in terms of a second term?
JEAN-PIERRE: It is a priority. We know that as it relates to the border security, specifically, it is a priority for Americans. That’s why, let’s not forget, on day one of this President’s administration, the first legislation that he put forth to Congress was on immigration reform, a comprehensive immigration reform. So it’s about three years, and we have not seen any action on that. And we want to work with Congress on that. So right now, as you all have reported, there is this bipartisan – hopefully a bipartisan agreement that we will get to, to deal with border security because it’s so important. When Congress comes back, we hope Congress takes action on that. But the President is taking this very, very seriously.