White House reporter April Ryan on Wednesday asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki about a pundit’s claim that Vice President Kamala Harris’ policy portfolio “is trash” because President Biden isn’t doing enough to support her.
Ryan, a veteran correspondent who reports for The Grio, cited CNN pundit Bakari Sellers during an exchange on voting rights legislation, one of many tasks Harris was put in charge of by Biden. Harris’ other roles include reducing illegal immigration and promoting union membership.
“The argument is that the president is not supporting her with the tools that she needs [because he does not supporting ending] the filibuster for voting rights and that’s in her portfolio. You have one of her friends and a Democrat strategist, Bakari Sellers, who says her portfolio is trash because he’s not supporting her in the way she needs to be supported for this to pass,” Ryan told Psaki at her daily press briefing.
Psaki defended Biden’s commitment to stalled election reform legislation and to supporting Harris in promoting it.
“The president has conveyed many times that getting voting rights done, signing into law, is top of his agenda,” Psaki said. “The vice president, one of the most powerful people in the world, is leading this effort. [Biden] is her — she is his partner. She’s the first in the room, the last in the room. And he’s going to continue to work by her side to get it done.”
But another journalist, Eugene Daniels of Politico, pressed Psaki, saying: “There is a real frustration… among activists on the voting rights issue… What do you have to say to activists who are saying this White House, the president, isn’t doing enough on voting rights, specifically?
Psaki replied, “I think that was just the question I just answered. No?”
Ryan interrupted, telling Psaki: “We are trying to get an answer from you. I mean, it’s a legitimate question.”
“I’m not saying it’s not. I’m not saying it’s not,” Psaki said, adding: “I would say that the president is also frustrated that voting rights has not been done, he’s also frustrated that Republicans are so afraid of making reforms that would make it easier for people to vote that they have blocked this effort.”
When pressed further, Psaki said “you need 50 votes to change the filibuster” in the Senate.
Republicans oppose Democratic election reform bills and say that states should be allowed to set their own policies on matters such as voter registration and mail-in voting. Democrats say that federal legislation is needed to override restrictions in GOP-led states, but they lack enough votes in the evenly divided Senate to pass legislation because of the upper chamber’s filibuster rules.
Some Democratic activists want an exception to the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to pass election reforms. Centrist Democrats including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have defended the higher threshold.