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VP Kamala Harris ‘Laughing at Refugees’

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During a March 10 2022 press conference between U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Poland President Andrzej Duda, Harris "laughed" about Ukrainian refugees.

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On March 10 2022, far-right blogger and serial plagiarist Benny Johnson claimed that “[only] Kamala Harris would find it appropriate to laugh when talking about the topic of Ukrainian Refugees,” attaching a purportedly illustrative video clip:

A chyron at the bottom indicated that the video aired on CBS News, between 1:34 and 1:35 PM Warsaw time; the snippet was 61 seconds long. It began with a reporter addressing both Harris and Duda, asking:

I wanted to ask you about some reporting that my colleague here in Poland noticed. He recently spoke with the mayor of the largest border town, who told him that the refugee system is essentially not set up for this, that it will collapse. It’s an improvised system that can work for maybe two weeks, but not indefinitely. And I’m wondering what the United States is going to do more specifically to set up a permanent infrastructure. And relatedly, is the United States willing to make a specific allocation for Ukrainian refugees? And for President Duda, I wanted to know if you think and if you asked the United States to specifically accept more refugees.

When the reporter finished reciting the question, Harris and Duda looked at one another, and both laughed. Harris said “okay,” adding “a friend in need is a friend indeed,” and Duda responded that he would “go first.” Johnson did not included any information about the context of the clip, nor a link to a longer version of the exchange.

In the Twitter thread, a user responded with a tweet by Deputy Communications Director to the Vice President of the United States Herbie Ziskend. Ziskend countered:

No surprise: but this is wildly out of context. I was in the room. The @VP and President were laughing about who would speak first amidst simultaneous translations – they were certainly not laughing about refugees. (1/3)

As the @VP said today: the people of Ukraine have suffered immensely. And the moral outrage we feel when we look at what is happening to innocent men, women, children, grandmothers, and grandfathers who are fleeing everything they’ve known compels us to act. (2/3)

Which is why today, the @VP announced additional funding to support innocent civilians affected by Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine. (3/3)

In the third and final tweet, Ziskend linked to a March 10 2022 press release, entitled “Vice President Kamala Harris Announces Additional U.S. Funding to Respond to Humanitarian Needs in Ukraine and Eastern Europe.” It began:

During her trip to Warsaw, Poland, today [March 10 2022], U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced nearly $53 million in new humanitarian assistance from the United States government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to support innocent civilians affected by Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine. This additional assistance includes support to the UN World Food Program (WFP) to provide lifesaving emergency food assistance to meet immediate needs of hundreds of thousands affected by the invasion, including people who are displaced from their homes and who are crossing the border out of Ukraine. In addition, it will support WFP’s logistics operations to move assistance into Ukraine, including to people in Kyiv.

France 24 shared the entire press conference on YouTube in a 38 minute-long video; Harris repeatedly became visibly upset as she referenced a Russian attack on a Ukrainian maternity hospital. Moreover, the White House published a complete transcript of the joint press conference, “Remarks by Vice President Harris and President Andrzej Duda of Poland in Joint Press Conference.”

The exchange in the video was included at the end of the transcript, including remarks which occurred after the clip cut off:

WHITE HOUSE AIDE: And the final question will be from Asma Khalid of NPR.

Q Thank you. Thank you, Madam Vice President. I wanted to ask you about some reporting that my colleague here in Poland noticed. He recently spoke with the mayor of the largest border town, who told him that the refugee system is essentially not set up for this, that it will collapse. It’s an improvised system that can work for maybe two weeks, but not indefinitely. And I’m wondering what the United States is going to do more specifically to set up a permanent infrastructure. And relatedly, is the United States willing to make a specific allocation for Ukrainian refugees?

And for President Duda, I wanted to know if you think and if you asked the United States to specifically accept more refugees.

VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Okay. (Laughs.) A friend in need is a friend indeed. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT DUDA: Okay. I’ll go first. Okay, so this time — (as interpreted) — Madam, the situation is very complex. This is what I was saying today and I discussed this at length with Madam Vice President Kamala Harris. I said, in a very blunt way, that today we are seeing a refugee crisis. It is unfolding because Poland is still able to receive — it is all the time able to find the accommodation for those people who are coming to us all the time …

Duda spoke at length, with Harris responding next:

VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: As the President said, we did discuss this issue. And I started by thanking the President in Poland and the people of Poland for what they have done. And I will restate what I said earlier this afternoon: They’ve shown extraordinary generosity and kindness and courage. And they have — there have been some here who have relatives who have arrived from Ukraine, but I think there are many more who are taking in perfect strangers with barely a lot to give but giving a lot nonetheless.

So, we recognize that, and we recognize the burden that it places on the government of Poland, on the president, and the infrastructure of this country; when you look at — as the President said, over one and a half million people coming within two weeks, virtually. Unprecedented if you track and look at refugee flows over the history of time from regions of conflict.

So the United States is absolutely prepared to do what we can and what we must to support Poland in terms of the burden that they have taken on that I think all of us who understand the moral obligation we should feel to help people who are fleeing harm and seeking refuge; the burden we should all be prepared to take on to support those people who are fleeing their home when they don’t want to leave …

Harris referenced humanitarian crises in Ukraine repeatedly, at one point remarking:

And when it comes to crimes and violations of international norms and rules, we are also very clear that any intentional attack on innocent civilians is a violation. The U.N. has set up a process by which there will be a review and investigations, and we will of course participate as appropriate and necessary.

But we all watched the television coverage of just yesterday [March 9 2022]. That’s on top of everything else that we know and don’t know yet, based on what we’ve just been able to see. And because we’ve seen it or not doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

But just limited to what we have seen: Pregnant women going for healthcare being injured by — I don’t know — a missile, a bomb in an unprovoked, unjustified war, where a powerful country is trying to take over another country — violate its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, for the sake of what? Nothing that is justified or provoked. Absolutely there should be an investigation, and we should all be watching. And I have no question the eyes of the world are on this war and what Russia has done in terms of this aggression and these atrocities. I have no doubt.

The clip on Twitter showed Harris stating in part that “a friend in need is a friend indeed,” and the transcript reflected three earlier mentions of the phrase. Not long into the conference, Polish reporter Żaklina Skowrońska posed a question about “what way has this brutal attack of Russia against Ukraine impacted Polish-American relations.”

Duda again responded at length, and in part referenced an earlier statement by Harris:

… If we recall the words of President Lech Kaczyński, which I quoted many times and who said those words to me back in 2008, he said, and I quote: “Andrzej, when U.S. soldiers are on our soil, when U.S. military installations are on our soil, when U.S. military equipment is put in our soil, then the whole world will be able to see that we are no longer a Russian sphere of influence.” This is a true friendship.

As Madam Vice President remarked today, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” That is why I’m really happy that today, when we are in need and when the NATO eastern flank is in need, the United States, by the decision of President Joe Biden, has deployed additional troops. The U.S. is deploying more troops, and the U.S. is announcing the strengthening of this presence in our part of Europe and also in Poland, because this is precisely the understanding of the geopolitics of strategic goals that have to be achieved by this geopolitics and by the free world. This is the understanding of the security …

That additional context suggested that Duda and Harris twice referenced that phrasing, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” In the segment shared on Twitter, both Harris (visiting Warsaw) and Duda (in Warsaw) “laughed” about difficulty coordinating their dual responses with the interjections of translators, and clearly neither was amused or laughing at the plight of Ukrainian refugees.

On March 10 2022, Twitter user Benny Johnson asserted that “[only] Kamala Harris would find it appropriate to laugh when talking about the topic of Ukrainian Refugees,” alongside a clip purportedly evidencing his claim. In context, the question was the final question of a long joint press conference between Duda and Harris, and both Duda and Harris “laughed” in the segment — not “only” Harris, and not at “Ukrainian refugees.” Not only was Harris visibly and repeatedly upset discussing the situation in Ukraine, it was clear she and Duda laughed as they tried to both respond to the question in an orderly fashion around translators. The clip was not doctored, but misleadingly framed to mischaracterize the brief segment it included.