The State Department on Thursday refused to answer questions about whether the administration can accept a certain number of Ebola cases in the United States before deciding to impose a travel ban, or a quarantine period on people from West Africa.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki is one of several officials who has been asked to explain why the U.S. doesn't ban flights from West Africa, and has said the U.S. wants to ensure it can keep travel lanes open so it can help. But Psaki was asked whether this line of thinking might change if a few more people with Ebola manage to find their way into the United States, or if a certain number of Americans contract the virus.
State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki often uses the phrase 'I think' just before she dodges questions from reporters. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
"Is there a point at which that cost-benefit analysis tips, and it would be seen as a mistake to let people to travel here without a quarantine period?" a reporter asked. "Is it one American contracting Ebola? Is it five, is it 10?"
Psaki avoided the question and restated the policy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the administration as a whole.
"We continue to take steps and evaluate what steps that can be taken to, of course, not only protect American citizens, but to do everything we can to address this outbreak," she said.
The reporter tried again. "Is there an acceptable number of Americans that could be exposed to the Ebola virus for that reason?" he asked.
"I think the CDC has addressed this, as have I," she said. "I'm going to move on."
Psaki often dismisses reporters' questions with answers that start with "I think." Just a day earlier, she dismissed several by saying "I think you are familiar with our position," "I think I've spoken about this in the past," or other variations.
On Tuesday, Psaki was asked to explain why the U.S. has said it would defend Baghdad, but not Kobani. She gave a general answer and was pressed again, and replied, "I think I just outlined our tactics and our focus, and I'll leave it at that."
When asked later what the difference is between Kobani and Baghdad in terms of defending the two cities, she said, "I think they're different countries and different cities." When asked for more clarification, she said, "I think I've answered it all I can."
On Monday, after Vice President Joe Biden was forced to apologize to Saudi Arabia for saying it aided terrorists, Psaki was asked whether the State Department wants Biden to apologize to anyone else.
"I think … the vice president and his team made decisions about the calls he made," she said. When pressed on why he apologized, she said, "I think I addressed that."
A quick search of the State Department transcripts shows that Psaki uses the phrase "I think" dozens of times at each briefing.
Last week, Psaki was asked if the State Department expects military action from Turkey to protect Kobani. She outlined how the Islamic State is threatening Kobani, and said the U.S. is helping with airstrikes.
"But you didn't answer my question," the reporter said. "Do you expect any military action from Turkey to protect Kobani, especially that they got the green light yesterday from the parliament?"
"I think I did exactly answer your question," Psaki replied. "I just said that groups are aligning on the ground, opposition groups, including Kurds and Sunnis, to fight this on the ground. And we are also assisting from the United States with military airstrikes. So there’s a range of steps that are being taken militarily to push back on the attacks from ISIL in the area."
"And one of these steps is military action from Turkey?" the reporter was forced to ask.
And when asked about the State Departments's position on Americans fighting against Islamic State in Syria, she said, "I think I addressed this yesterday."