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‘White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki Blames GOP for Defunding Police’

Claim

"White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki continued to promote her outrageous claim that Republicans are the ones who pushed for defunding the police yet, when pushed by a reporter on [June 30 2021], she was unable to name a single Republican who has ever championed defunding the police."

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Not True

Reporting

On July 1 2021, the right-wing blog DailyWire.com published a story with the headline, “Psaki Blames GOP For Defunding Police, But She Can’t Name 1 Republican Who Called For Defunding Police,” which claimed that White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki repeatedly claimed that Republicans sought to “defund police”:

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki continued to promote her outrageous claim that Republicans are the ones who pushed for defunding the police yet, when pushed by a reporter on Wednesday [June 30 2021], she was unable to name a single Republican who has ever championed defunding the police.

[…]

“There are lots of examples of Democrats explicitly saying they want to defund the police,” [a] reporter said. “ … Are there any examples of Republican members of Congress saying they want to defund the police?”

Psaki was unable to name a single Republican who has ever openly called for defunding the police.

DailyWire.com included a quoted transcript of the briefing, but did not link to one. The site also embedded a short clip shared to Twitter, which involved the exchange between Psaki and a reporter on June 30 2021:

The discussion between Psaki and the reporter appeared in the official WhiteHouse.gov transcript, “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Michael Regan, June 30, 2021.” That exchange was as follows:

[Reporter]: And on another subject: You mentioned, at the last briefing, that you think Republicans wanted to defund the police because they did not support the American Rescue Plan. Which Republican ever said that they did not like the American Rescue Plan because they wanted to defund the police?

Psaki: Well, first, let me just note that the President ran and won the most votes of any candidate in history on a platform of boosting funding for law enforcement after Republicans spent decades trying to cut the COPS program — there’s record of that; that doesn’t require anyone having new comments — and then also stood in the way of crucial funding needed to prevent the laying off of police officers as crimes increased. That’s a simple statement of fact.

[Reporter]: I understand what you’re saying there; however, there are lots of examples of Democrats explicitly saying they want to defund the police. We’ve got Congresswoman Cori Bush, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar. Are there any examples of Republican members of Congress saying they want to defund the police?

Psaki: I think most people would argue that actions are more important than words, wouldn’t you say?

[Reporter]: Well, to that point — to your point there: At the time of the vote on the American Rescue Plan, you had the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, he said he just didn’t like it because he thought it was a classic example of big-government Democratic overreach in the name of COVID relief. And then Kevin McCarthy said he thought Democrats were using coronavirus as an excuse to justify funding pet projects. Where is the —

Psaki: Well, here —

[Reporter]: — “We’re going to vote against this because we want to defund the police”?

Psaki: Again, I think actions speak louder than words, Peter. So if you oppose funding for the COPS program — something that was dramatically cut by the prior administration and many Republicans supported — and then you vote against a bill that has funding for the COPS program, we can let other people evaluate what that means. It doesn’t require them to speak to it or to shout it out; their actions speak for themselves.

In the exchange, the reporter said that during a previous briefing, Psaki had mentioned “Republicans wanted to defund the police because they did not support the American Rescue Plan” — clearly paraphrasing by the reporter, and not the same thing as Psaki blaming the GOP for defunding the police.

According to the reporter, Psaki’s purported assertion was not that Republicans were “defunding police,” but that their opposition to the American Rescue Plan affected funding for law enforcement. The reporter then pivoted to ask for any “examples of Republicans” in Congress saying “they want to defund police.”

Psaki and the reporter continued their exchange, and Psaki reiterated that she was addressing funding for police under the American Rescue Plan. Despite the headline characterization, she was not challenged to name a single Republican who called to defund police — she simply persisted with saying that the American Rescue Plan included “funding for the COPS program.”

However, the exchange did not provide a complete understanding of the exchange, since the reporter alluded to remarks Psaki made during a June 28 2021 press briefing, for which there was also a transcript available.

Once again, the framing involving Republicans and funding (or defunding) police came not from Psaki, but from a reporter. Additionally, that reporter was paraphrasing not Psaki, but Senior Advisor to the President Cedric Richmond.

The word “police” appeared six times in the entirety of the June 28 2021 press briefing, four of which were in the exchange that follows; the other two were unrelated to discourse about the American Rescue Plan and law enforcement funding:

[Reporter]: Okay. Something one of the advisors said this weekend — Cedric Richmond — he said, “Republicans defunded the police by not supporting the American Rescue Plan.” But how is it that that is an argument to be made when the President never mentioned needing money for police to stop a crime wave when he was selling the American Rescue Plan?

Psaki: Well, the President did mention that the American Rescue Plan, they’ll — the state and local funding — something that was supported by the President, a lot of Democrats who supported and voted for the bill — could help ensure local cops were kept on the beat in communities across the country. As you know, it didn’t receive a single Republican vote. That funding has been used to keep cops on the beat.

[Reporter]: But at the time, that was sold as: These local police departments might have a pandemic-related budget shortfall — not, “We need to keep cops on the beat because there’s crime wave.”

Psaki: I think that any local department would argue that keeping cops on the beat to keep communities safe when they had to, because of budget shortfalls, fire police is something that helps them address —

[Reporter]: Yes.

Psaki: — crime in their local communities.

[Reporter]: But those are the local communities. The White House’s argument was: The American Rescue Plan is going to be $1,400 checks. It’s going to be vaccines, vaccinators. We’re — it’s going to put us on the path to beating the virus, not —

Psaki: It did those things as well. It was a pretty good bill and piece of legislation.

Immediately thereafter, the briefing turned to discussion of athlete Gwen Barry. But in the June 30 2021 exchange on which DailyWire.com’s story was predicated, the unnamed reporter said to Psaki:

“You mentioned, at the last briefing, that you think Republicans wanted to defund the police because they did not support the American Rescue Plan …”

Referring to the then most recent briefing revealed that Psaki said no such thing, nor did the exchange in question indicate she had. In that exchange, a reporter said:

Okay. Something one of the advisors said this weekend — Cedric Richmond — he said, “Republicans defunded the police by not supporting the American Rescue Plan.” But how is it that that is an argument to be made when the President never mentioned needing money for police to stop a crime wave when he was selling the American Rescue Plan?

In short, DailyWire.com’s “Psaki Blames GOP For Defunding Police, But She Can’t Name 1 Republican Who Called For Defunding Police” was predicated on a series of exchanges during press briefings on June 28 and 30 2021, presented out of context and distorted to falsely claim that Psaki “blamed” Republicans for defunding police, after which she purportedly failed to name even one — an exaggerated “gotcha” that is a characteristic of certain types of weaponized disinformation.

In actuality, Psaki was fielding an initial question from a reporter who claimed Richmond said “Republicans defunded the police by not supporting the American Rescue Plan.” The unnamed reporter in the second exchange inaccurately attributed the statement to Psaki, leading to the misleading repackaging of her comments.